Chapter 1: I
A Place to Heal
This story is dedicated...
...to the victims of the Japanese Tsunami on March 11th2011, and those who risk their lives every day in their battle to finally regain control of the nuclear plants.
It is also dedicated to those who lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster.
And to my friends in Stargate-land who encouraged me to go through with this zine.
Sgt. Davis yawned as he put his coffee down. A quick glance at the clock confirmed his shift would last another four hours. It was three am and there hadn't been one single incident. Things were quiet and had been for a while now. Which was... unusual.
Teams had moved out and come back on schedule, nobody was injured and no aliens showed up uninvited. No lockdowns and no threats coming through the gate.
Not that he wished for any of those incidents to happen. He'd had his share of scares and dreadful situations over the years, thank you very much. Even a temporary power failure would turn into something worse down here if the gate malfunctioned and the computer went down.
Yet... the night shifts had never been so boring; hours stretching into dull eternity as Walter was just sitting there, writing something on a clip board and sipping his coffee, thinking about how much quieter it had become since SG-1 was no longer a part of the SGC.
The flag team and trouble magnet of Stargate Command was no more. Colonel Carter had moved to Nevada where she worked at Area 51 now. Teal'c had left Earth to help the free Jaffa to build a new government, and to find their place in the universe again.
Daniel Jackson was dead.
In fact, he seemed to be dead for good this time.
Nobody had believed it at first - not even the general. Especially not the general. General O'Neill had refused to hold a memorial ceremony for Doctor Jackson because he insisted that he'd come back, waltzing through a door any minute. That he just waited for them to go all sappy over him and then he'd be back alive and kicking.
Except this time Doctor Jackson had never come back. Not after a week, or a month, nor a year.
SG-1 had fallen apart, the general had left.
Walter had no idea where he'd gone. One morning when he had arrived at the mountain a new general had taken Jack O'Neill's place and was already re-decorating his office. It was beyond Walter how this could have happened without his knowledge.
He used to know everything that was going on at the mountain.
Yet, he hadn't known O'Neill was going to retire and leave over night, without a trace.
Sometimes he kept thinking he should have seen the signs of withdrawal. He'd been working for the man, had seen him everyday. He'd known O'Neill was much more sensitive than he'd let on. The dumb soldier act was exactly that - an act. He'd also known the general and Doctor Jackson had shared a special bond. To anyone who didn't know SG-1 and their complex relationships it would have seemed that the general and the archeologist never got along well. That they had been the thorn in each other's side. Yet, there'd been a dynamic between them not even Walter understood completely. But then, O'Neill had been very different from most men Walter had worked for. His leadership style had been unusual at times and in the beginning Walter had more than once missed Hammond's presence in the halls of the SGC.
O'Neill had kept a lot bottled up inside, showing his people only fragments of who he was. SG-1 might have known him better, Walter mused. Colonel Carter had had feelings for the general for a long time. Everyone on base knew – or believed to know – about that. Teal'c and O'Neill used to be like brothers in arms. Doctor Jackson, however.... Doctor Jackson had reached the general in ways nobody else could. Maybe he'd been O'Neill's biggest weakness, or his greatest strength. O'Neill had had a very soft spot for the archaeologist. Well, everyone had. Doctor Jackson had been one of a kind. Passionate, strong in his beliefs, hard working, coffee addicted. He'd been diplomatic and yet stood his ground with a stubborn, sometimes almost pig headed, insistence. He'd fought for what he thought was the right thing to do and no General Jonathan O'Neill had been able to hold him back. Nothing could. And no one.
Now he was gone. A brilliant scientist, a genius mind... gone for good.
So Jack O'Neill had waited, lit a candle for Jackson to find his way home.
Until a year went by with no Doctor Jackson waltzing through the door.
One morning the general had been gone, too; his desk empty, his medals and pictures gone from the walls.
The candle had died.
Walter picked up his coffee mug and wondered once again how quiet it was, now that SG-1 was no more. How almost boring. The ghosts were still here, though, and not only those of the absent flag-team. There were others that were missed sorely. Janet Fraiser, Jacob Carter...
The klaxons went off.
Unauthorized off world activation.
General Landry joined him a moment later. He looked tired. Walter assumed he must have been catching up on paper work during the night. "What do we have here?" he wanted to know, scrubbing a weary hand over his face as he stepped to the window of the control room, observing the armed SF storming in. So far it was all routine. The SF took position in front of the spinning gate, weapons aimed.
"I don't know, sir. Unidentified..."
"Close the iris."
"Yes, sir." Walter punched in the order.
The iris didn't close.
"Iris won't close, sir," Walter said, stating the obvious.
The event horizon opened with its usual kawoosh. Alarms were ringing through the base.
The iris still wouldn't close. The SF were waiting for Landy's order to shoot or stand down.
When the traveler stepped out of the wormhole with the typical splashing sound, Landry let out a curse. "What the hell... Could that be one of those... Ancients? I mean, the robe and all..."
"I don't know, sir," Walter said. “It looks Abydonian. The robe.” Simple brown clothing, flowing down to the travelers feet and a hood covering his or her bent head. A cord loosely slung around the small figure's waist was holding everything together.
Landry bent over the microphone in the control room, cleared his throat and tersely addressed their late night visitor. "Who are you and what is the purpose of your visit? Identify yourself!"
Slowly, as if afraid to look around, the traveler raised his head. The hood skidded down and fell back on his shoulders to reveal a long matted mane of hair and a pale young face staring up at them blankly.
Landry groaned. "A kid! And how do I know it is really a kid?"
"I don't know, sir," Walter offered, knowing he wasn't helpful and the question was most likely rhetorical.
The boy on the ramp continued to gaze up at them for a moment, with empty eyes. Then he silently doubled over and fell.
"Stand down," Landry barked at the SF. And to Walter, "Get a medical team in there."
Walter followed the order and then watched as the general left the control room to appear in the gate room a moment later, the medical team showing up shortly after. The medics bent over the still body of the young boy, measuring his pulse and checking his eyes for reaction before they put him on a gurney and hurried out again, followed by Landry.
Walter started running a gate diagnostic, wondering if maybe the quiet days were over now.
Doctor Carolyn Lam was no longer a newbie. She had worked at the SGC for almost two years now and had seen her share of the unknown, unbelievable and yet, real things the universe offered at times, or threatened them with. She knew about the Ancients and the Ori and had dealt with injured Jaffa and various other aliens. So when the unconscious boy was brought into the infirmary, she was not more than mildly surprised.
She looked down at the small face and the professional medical part of her brain registered a few things immediately. The boy was maybe 10 or 11 years old. He was underweight and his skin of a very unhealthy, almost ashen, complexion. His hair was a long blond mess, going down to his elbows. He wore rough oversized textured robes. He was also dirty and in bad need of a bath. Wherever this child came from, he hadn't been taken care of very well.
Immediately she tried to find possible reasons for the child's arrival and his neglected state.
Maybe he was from a planet at war and had managed to escape. Maybe his world had been conquered by the Ori and somebody had sent him for help? Did he come from a planet known by the SGC?
"We have to get him out of these robes," Lam ordered and started to open the old cord holding them together.
Two nurses started to undress him carefully when the boy suddenly stirred. Long, dark lashes fluttered and flew open, revealing a pair of vacant blue eyes that seemed to stare right through everything around him. He stiffened at the nurses' touch and at a nod from Lam, the women stepped away from the bed.
"Hi there," Carolyn tried and smiled at him. "I'm Doctor Lam. Don't be afraid. You’re safe here. We want to help you, okay?"
There was no reaction. The child stayed unresponsive, just gazed at her, unseeing. Catatonic, Carolyn thought.
However, as the nurses took hold of the robe again, she had to amend her assessment at least partly. Suddenly, as if bolting out of sleep from a nightmare, the kid jerked away from them. Two small hands grabbed for the robe and pulled it back around the skinny body. Shaking his head frantically, the kid made an attempt to jump from the gurney.
"No! Wait!" Carolyn tried to take hold of thin arms and took a hit to her cheekbone that sent her stumbling several steps away from the child. The surprise slowed her reactions for a moment. Dumbfounded she rubbed the aching spot at her face as the boy ran towards the open door leading into the corridor, somehow slipping through the hands of the two guards posted there.
"Don't let him get away," Lam shouted at the two men who had escorted them from the gate room. Both guards were following the boy even before she had called out.
She nodded at the nurse who offered her a syringe with a mild sedative. Armed like that she stepped out into the corridor where she was greeted with a heartbreaking sight.
The child was sitting in a corner, shaking his head wildly, kicking out at the guards who were trying to get near him. He had both arms wrapped around himself. His eyes were wide and dark with sheer panic. When he spotted the Doctor coming towards him, he even seemed to squat himself further into the corner.
"Doc?" one of the guards questioned. They'd be able to overwhelm the child, but both men were fathers themselves and didn't feel comfortable using force on this kid that seemed to be scared beyond everything.
"I'll get it," Lam said.
They aimed their weapons at the boy, but wouldn't shoot unless it was absolutely necessary. However, the universe had taught them to be careful. What looked like a harmless frightened child could be anything but harmless.
She took another step towards the boy, trying to keep her voice low and crooning as she started talking, hoping he'd understand what she was saying. "Don't be afraid, okay? Nobody is going to hurt you. We want to help you. We’re friends. I'm a doctor. I just want to make sure you're okay... Please? Let me take you back inside and we'll give you something to eat... are you hungry? It's okay... no need to be scared."
More head shaking and self hugging. He drew his legs up to his body, grabbing them with his hands and buried his face behind his knees until he looked like a human ball, rocking back and forth.
Did he even understand a single word she said?
Carolyn took another step towards him. "I'm not going to hurt you, okay? Please don't be scared..." She had the syringe ready as she stepped forward again.
The boy suddenly let go of his knees and pressed his arms between his legs and body. Apparently he understood the purpose of the syringe and wouldn't allow her to use it. He curled up on the floor, giving her no access to his arms.
Lam was almost there, praying the boy wouldn't start to lash out at her so that she'd lose the syringe. She just needed to touch him, stroke his hair maybe, give him reassurance. She needed to make a connection. He had to understand she wasn't his enemy. Carefully she reached out for his hair...
"Do not touch the child," a female voice told her in a kind, but firm tone, as a white light illuminated the corridor and everything around Lam and the scared child in the corner. The alarms started to howl again as Carolyn looked up and into the face of a young woman. Lam blinked as she took in the beautiful soft features of a face that seemed to be blended with the light, framed by dark long hair. The light seemed to be in her, coming out of her and surround her at the same time. It was spreading out through the corridor and almost tenderly embraced the young boy, who now closed his eyes, a single tear emerging from under the long lashes, running down his pale exhausted face.
"He will sleep now," the gentle voice continued. "When he awakes, he will be calm. Do not touch him if he does not want you to. He has endured much. Now he is on a path back into life. He must rest. And heal. You need to respect this." The woman bent over the sleeping boy and picked him up. She cradled him into her arms as she carried him back into the room and laid him down on the gurney, the white soft light wafting over and around her and the boy.
"Is that Oma Desalla?" Lam mumbled as she watched the glowing woman.
She knew the entity was most likely an ascended being. She had read reports about them. The child curled up into a ball again, which made Carolyn's heart clench. Even in his sleep he tried to protect himself from... what? Abuse? Torture?
The ascended woman hovered over her charge for a moment and then turned to Lam, a wistful smile on her face. She looked... Arabic, Lam decided. Her black hair was long and curled, her eyes as far as she could see them, were dark and her face showed the typical oriental features of the Arabic.
"Who is he?" Lam asked, determined to gather as much information about the kid as possible. "Why did he come through the gate? And who are you?"
"I am not important. He is the zia of the one called O'Neyl. He carries great knowledge, but before he will reveal it his soul needs healing. Therefore he has to return from the refuge he has locked his mind in and step back into life."
Lam blinked. The white light was blinding and the whole room seemed to be bathed in it now. "O'Neill? You mean General O'Neill? He isn't here anymore."
"O'Neyl," the Ascended repeated. "Find O'Neyl. For the sake of this child he will open his heart again."
Lam watched as the light began to fade. "Wait! O'Neill retired. He isn't on base anymore and I can't let the kid leave the mountain!"
"Hear me," the woman spoke, her voice urgent now. "You must not hesitate. Find O'Neyl. Bring him the child so he can reunite with him. They are not meant to be separated." She bent down and her lips brushed over the still sleeping boy's hair. "Ma'assalama, my love," she whispered before she vanished like a light breeze, leaving only a white shimmer of light lingering for a moment.
"Do you want to extract blood samples while he is asleep?" one of the nurses whispered.
Carolyn looked at the curled up back of the child and reluctantly shook her head. "I'd better talk to General Landry first." She walked over to a wall phone and made a call.
The Palomino stood like a statue, only her ears twitched nervously as she listened to every sound; the wind in the trees and the crickets hiding in the dry grass. Her nostrils widened as she took in scents of the sun, the earth and the grass. The earth under her hooves was hard, longing for rain. But there was no smell of rain in the air. There were other scents that didn't belong to the grass and the sun or the sky. Yet, the horse was familiar with them. They belonged to the man.
The man was sitting on the grass, his back against an old oak tree. The horse couldn't name the scents coming from him. Sometimes, especially when she had first met him, his scent was sharp and burnt her nostrils, forcing her to step away from him and shake her head as she'd curl her lips away and bared her teeth to flehm. Mostly, though, the man smelled good now. Fresh, spicy, a bit of the fire he sometimes lit in the black box outside his house when he prepared his food. She was not fond of the smell of smoke or fire, but she had learned that it did not harm her when it came from the box. The two legs could not live on grass and herbs or oat. Their food was different, but sometimes tasted good. The man fed her apples and something he called bread. The bread was hard and she liked how it crunched between her teeth. The apples were sour or sweet and she liked them best.
The man had healed her wounds and brought her food. His hands had touched her, but there was no pain coming from them. His voice was gruff sometimes, but mostly soft and often sad. There was grief surrounding the man. She knew the smell and taste of it when others like him had taken her away from her mother a long time ago and she had been cramped together in a dark moving place with others of her kind, all of them crying and moaning in despair.
Little ones, afraid and hunched together until the dark place had stopped moving and they had been taken out into unknown territory. All the young were separated and herded away to different places. She didn't remember any of them clearly, nor did she see any of them ever again. But she remembered the smell of grief and fear. There was no fear in the man, just sadness and an empty place. Maybe somebody had taken him away from his family, too. She did not know.
She raised her head as a humming sound reached her ears. The man didn't hear it yet. His hearing was poor. It was a sound that didn't belong to the world of her ancestors, but was recognized by her through experience of life. Bad smells and loud noises from a thing she had no name for. The man called it a truck or a car and the two legged used it to move faster for their own legs were too slow to carry them over long distances. She did not know what was coming, but she would not stay to find out if the two legged in the moving box would come to take her away.
It was her sign to leave.
O'Neill stopped gnawing on the blade of grass when the horse made a graceful step to the right, then turned and left the clearing behind the cabin. He watched her galloping into the dark green of the forest.
"Something I said?" he wondered aloud, raising an eyebrow as he slowly rose from his spot under the tree. It was an old gnarly tree and Sara had always complained. She used to say it took so much of the light from the clearing. But Jack and Charlie had liked the tree. It was great for kids to climb in, with strong sturdy branches and many forks to sit and play Indians or Tarzan or whatever you wanted to be at the time. Jack liked the tree because it had already been there when he'd been a kid, playing the same games his own son used to play out here. It was a huge tree. It was nice to sit underneath its canopy of leaves and let the world pass by. It spent shade against the midday heat, too.
Brushing grass and dust from the seat of his jeans, he stretched and decided to have a beer. There were a few cold ones in the fridge and it was after lunch time.
As he retrieved the bottle from the fridge and took a look inside, he realized it was almost time to drive into town and stock up his supplies. He'd do it on the weekend. He hoped Harry, the owner of the only grocery store in town, got the new sinkers Jack had ordered last month.
He opened the beer and snipped the cap into the general direction of the trash can when the annoying beeping of his cell phone disturbed the nice and peaceful quietness. Jack just shrugged, took his beer and walked out of the little house he'd been living in for the last year.
Maybe he'd throw the damn phone into the lake one day.
Stepping on the wooden pier, where his boat dimpled in the water, he sipped his beer and enjoyed the sun on his skin and the solitude of being all alone out here.
No responsibilities, no life threatening situations, no nothing. No fear of failure. Just him, the fish and the horse that kept coming back to get some treats or drink and swim in the lake. Yep, he had seen her swim on a very hot day. Maybe because of the mosquitoes torturing her. She'd used the sandy cove on the other side to get in. The spot was overgrown by high reed. Charlie had played at the cove, dug in the sand and splashed in the shallow water.
Jack had no idea where the horse had come from. One night she'd stumbled into the clearing, bleeding from several wounds on her legs, shoulder and chest. He figured she must have run through barbwire. She'd been standing there, trembling and damp, in the moonlight when he'd come out, gun in hand, to see what was going on. He had heard her breaking through the forest and thought a deer was sneaking around to look for food. He hadn't intended to shoot him, just make sure it really was just a deer and not a bear. Not that there had been any bears around this area lately.
No deer, no bear, but a slender Palomino mare had been his nightly visitor.
He finished his beer and decided to take a bath before he'd start on the boat, He undressed quickly, leaving his clothes in a pile on the pier. There was no need for trunks out here. Nobody would catch him skinny dipping. With strong strokes, he swam halfway across the lake, relishing the cold water on his sun warm skin. He turned to crawl back, when he saw the car coming down the path leading to the road.
He was about to get out of the water when he realized he was buck naked. So he just stayed where he was, put his arms on the wooden planks of the pier and placed his chin on them while he tread water to stay in place.
Crap. Of all times people wanted to stop by for whatever reason it had to be now?
In the year he'd been living here only Harry had come out a couple of times to help him fix the cabin from winter damage. So, this was new. And not necessarily in a good way. Jack watched the truck, a military vehicle, come to a halt next to the cabin. He didn't bother to offer a greeting when two SF got out and saluted him.
So they'd been trying to call him for some time now. Must be something huge if they were sending somebody out here to get him. Well, if they expected him to come back he had news for them.
A third man in dress blues had exited the car and walked towards him. When he reached the pier he stared down at Jack, a nervous smile on his face.
Jack snorted. "Samuels?"
Jack glared at him only because he could. And it didn't really matter that Samuels was standing on the pier and Jack was down here. He had that glare down to a T and it better still worked.
Samuels added, "Sir."
Well that was fun. Samuels hadn't changed a bit. Was still nervous around him. Nice. However, he also seemed to be a little annoyed. "I am here to escort you back to Colorado Springs, sir. Your expertise is needed there. General Landry...“
"Samuels," Jack snapped, causing the other man to slightly jump and stand at attention.
"Tell your watch dogs to get back into the car and turn around."
"Uh, sir? I have my orders... If you'd please leave the water now so I can brief you on the situation..."
"Yeah, right. I'll just climb outta here so you can brief me while I'm in my birthday suit."
Samuels' face took on an interesting shade of red. "B... birthday suit, sir?"
"Yep. As in naked like a jaybird. And I'm not fond of posing like this in front of just anyone."
"No, sir, of course not, sir," Samuels choked without moving.
Jack blinked up at him against the sun. "Hey, the water is nice. I won't mind staying in here. Wanna join me?"
Getting the hint, the younger man turned around and yelled at his companions to get back into the truck and wait for further instructions.
Shaking his head, Jack pulled himself up on the pier and grabbed his shirt to rub himself dry. "Samuels - Jeans," he ordered, realizing his jeans were lying by the other man's feet, out of his reach.
Samuels picked up the jeans with two fingers and, without looking back, threw them at Jack, who snatched them before they'd hit his face. After putting them on without bothering about underwear, he stepped around the flustered major and rubbed a hand over his still damp neck. "So. What's the happy occasion?"
"We've been trying to call you for four days," Samuels said as if that would explain everything.
"And? So? Therefore?"
"General Landry sent me to escort you back to Colorado Springs, sir."
"Yeah, well... tell Landry he can get somebody else to save the world or whoever's ass is in danger. I'm done."
The tight smile on Samuels' face tightened even more. "He told me you would probably say that."
"He's a smart man. It was nice talking to you, Samuels. I have a boat to repair," O'Neill said politely as he turned his back on him.
"Landry wants you to take a look at these pictures," Samuels said instead of being a good sport and leaving quietly.
Jack picked up his tool box and walked to the end of his pier where his boat was hooked. He'd have to bring it over to the cove and pull it on the shore. He climbed into it and gave Samuels a wave before he grabbed the paddles and started rowing with strong thrusts, away from the shore and away from Samules.
When he reached the cove, he jumped out of the boat and pulled it up the sandy beach. His jeans got wet and the damn boat was much heavier than he remembered it from when he'd brought it back out after the winter.
"General, all it takes is a look at these pictures...”
"Ah, Samuels. Still here? You mind coming down and giving me a hand here? Damn thing must be stuck somewhere in the reed," Jack said cheerfully as he spotted the other man standing a few feet away.
"Uh, yes. sir," came the not so enthusiastic answer as a bewildered Samuels came down the shore to stand ankle deep in the water, trying to get the boat loose. "Will you look at the pictures and see if you recognize that boy?" he asked hopefully while they pulled and shoved at the boat together until it was settled on the shore.
Wiping sweat from his brow and swatting at a mosquito, Jack frowned at Samuels who in return stared down at his wet shoes and feet. "What'cha talking about, Samuels?"
Instead of an answer a picture was shoved into his face. Jack grasped it before it would poke one of his eyes out and studied it. A small figure on a gurney, back to the camera. Long messy blond hair and brown robes. "Where'd he come from?"
"It's classified. Come back with us and you'll be debriefed about the situation."
O'Neill pondered that for a moment before he handed the picture back to Samuels. "I don't think so. I'm not a baby sitter and he's definitely not mine..." He stopped and the frown deepened as he mulled that over for a second, trying to remember any alien woman he'd had sex with over the last years. Edora? Nope. There had never been a child. "Definitely not mine," he repeated and turned to look at his boat instead.
"Sir," Samuels started. but Jack cut him off.
"Look, we talked, you followed your orders, I didn't cooperate - I'm retired and as long as you don't give me a damn good reason to go back, I won't go back. Have a nice life, Samuels. Bye."
Samuels gaped at him for a moment and then walked away, his shoes making squishy wet sounds as he did so. Jack didn't look back. He examined the leak on the underside of the boat. A moment later he heard the squishy wet steps coming back. Letting out a non verbal sigh he continued to study the leak. He'd have to change planks there. Another thing on his list for Harry's.
"That kid is threatening the safety of Earth," Samuels' sharp voice informed him from behind.
"Of course he is," O'Neill answered wryly. He had to drive to Harry's first before he could really start on the boat.
"I know you aren't as careless as you try to make us think, sir. Besides. If that kid blows up the whole planet your little... paradise here will go to hell as well... sir," Samuels told him bluntly.
Whoa! That was probably the bravest thing that guy had done in his career, Jack thought a little amused. He still didn't turn towards the man as he replied, "And you're going to arrest me if I don't cooperate, right? Those two SF didn't come along to make your drive out here less boring."
"Yes, sir. I'd rather not, sir. But if you don't leave me a choice..."
O'Neill grabbed his tool box and walked past Samuels towards the house.
"General! Where are you going?!"
"Taking a shower."
The horse watched the dark house from her spot between the high fir trees across the clearing. The man was gone. Cautiously, she stepped out from the tree line and walked to the cabin, her nostrils taking in every scent. Nobody was here.
Would he be back? Did someone take him away like they had taken her away from her mother... The man had been gone before, but never for long.
She stepped around the man's home and approached the lake to drink.
The "truck" which was owned by him was gone. Had he gone where the others went? She listened to the voices of the night as she drank. The air was cooler now and the wind made the trees sing. She didn't need the man to survive. He was not part of the world her ancestors once lived in. Deep inside she knew the world had been different for her kind once, a long time ago. They had been free then and never feared the two legged who now were everywhere.
No, she didn't need the man.
But he wasn't like those other two legged who forced her to carry them or stay behind a fence.
So she would miss him.
"Son of a bitch," O'Neill snapped as he spun around to face Samuels who seemed to search for a hole to disappear in.
They were standing in General Landry's office, which had once been his own. New pictures and different medals were hanging at the walls. But Jack had felt the burden of command surrounding him the moment he'd walked through the door. Only it wasn't his command anymore, something he was grateful for.
"Jack," Landry sighed. "He didn't want to get you here by force. So sue him."
“He told me that kid was threatening Earth!"
"That kid is a mystery and we were told you would be able to help," Landry explained.
"I'm so outta here," Jack bitched. They had made him come back twice. He had a right to retire for good at least once. If there was no Earth threatening situation he would go straight home and let somebody else handle this one. The world had to function without him. Period. Who was he? Captain James T. Kirk, who had to die before he finally could give the universe's fate into other hands? No way, friends and neighbors. Jack O'Neill was going back to his cabin and his fish, ASAP.
"He's in the infirmary. He's probably barely elven years old and he is dying," Landry said flatly.
Fuck. The man knew how to play dirty.
Carolyn Lam briefed him as Jack reluctantly followed her to the kid's room.
"He doesn't eat, doesn't talk. He accepts water and he's using the toilet in his bathroom. But other than that... he's unresponsive. The only thing he actually does is skimming through some of the books. But I'm not sure he can read. Most of the time he appears passive, unless he's fighting us. For some reason he's scared of sleep, I think. He's keeping himself awake by starting to wander around when he gets tired. He runs in circles until he just collapses from the exhaustion. Or he is sitting on his bed, rocking. At other times he just sits at the table or lies on his back, staring at nothing. We tried to give him meds so he can sleep, but he refuses to take them. When he sleeps, because he can't stay awake any longer, he often wakes up crying after a few hours. But he won't let anyone near him to comfort him. If he doesn't start eating soon, we'll have a serious problem," Doctor Lam explained as they stared into the room through the window at the door.
O'Neill's eyes skimmed over the skinny small figure on the bed.
"We had him on an IV for three days, but he ripped the needle out. Twice. I also managed to get a blood sample and it shows he's human. He's very weak. Other than that his problems seem to be more of a mental nature – so far. If he continues to refuse nourishment of any kind, his body will start to fail step by step. I have to admit, though, that he's in amazingly good shape for a child that didn't eat in over a week, minus the few days we managed to nourish him over the IV at least part time. We tried to restrain him, but he's so traumatized. He fought like a wildcat and when we managed to tie him to the gurney his heart rate almost took double speed and his blood pressure went so high, I had to leave him be. He doesn't respond to tranquillizer well. They make him sick.” She took a deep breath. “I don't want to torture this child even more than somebody else obviously has. Not if there is any chance you'll get through to him. So you are our only hope here.”
O'Neill nodded. "Open up," he ordered. He had heard everything he needed to know in the briefing. Lam was only repeating what she had reported earlier already.
He didn't need to hear any more of this.
He had a hunch. A crazy, totally illogical, but strong hunch.
He only wanted to be sure.
Getting his own heartbeat under control to appear calm and unfazed, he stepped into the small room with the table and bed.
There were books and toys, stuffed animals and Lego.
When the door closed behind Jack, the boy turned his back on him, curling up like a ball.
Jack stopped by the entrance, well aware they were being watched. He didn't want to scare the kid. According to Lam's report he was panicking easily and got scared by fast movements and loud noises.
He tried clearing his throat which got no reaction at all from the little human. “Hey," he offered quietly. "Mind if I... come a little closer?"
There was a little movement as the small shoulders tensed for a moment, then nothing.
Was that good or bad?
He carefully crossed the room until he was standing next to the shelf with books. Mainly picture books and comics since nobody knew if he was capable of reading or if he just looked at the pictures. Jack picked a comic and flipped through the pages. "Ah, Asterix. Did you read that? I had a friend once who used to say Asterix is the one comic a cultured person can read without being branded as a barbarian by other cultured persons. So it appeals to children as well as educated adults. I like Obelix and that tiny little dog...."
Of course there was no answer, so Jack continued. "...Idelix was his name. I'm bad on names, ya know. Could be Idolix too... no, wait.... Idlemix... nah..." He turned to the bed where the boy still had his back on him. "Doesn't work that way, huh? You're not buying the bad on names thing, right? Okay. "
He put the book back on the shelf and picked up a stuffed animal instead. It was a horse on stubby little legs. Jack thoughtfully brushed his thumb over the tousled black mane.
Placing the horse back on the shelf, he carefully walked along the wall as far away from the bed as possible. He reached the corner of the room and squatted down in it, sitting on the concrete floor with his legs pulled up. His knees were going to hate him for that later, but he didn't care. He could see the kid's front now. The boy was hugging himself and part of his face was covered by a mop of long blond hair. Jack didn't try any attempt at eye contact. He focused on a spot above the bed instead. Somebody had put a picture of a meadow with colorful wild flowers on the wall to give the room a friendly atmosphere.
"There're meadows like this where I live," Jack told the kid casually, keeping his voice low. "You should come and see them. You'd like coming to the cabin. There's a lake, too. I like fishing. My grandpa taught me."
From the corner of his eyes Jack thought he saw the grip of the skinny arms around the body loosen a bit. So he rambled on. About the forest, the cabin, the annoying flight to Colorado, the bad food they had served him... It was what he used to do with the horse when she had been standing there, trembling and injured, her coat damp and slick with sweat and blood. He'd talked to her until she stopped playing with her ears and got used to his voice....
"... you could use a bath, kiddo. And a haircut. Or at least a hair wash. Didn't they tell you to shower? And what about food? Oh, yeah, I know. Nobody wants that infirmary grub. Tell ya what? I'll go and get you some chocolate. Friend of mine loved that stuff. It's sweet and sticky, but he got off on it like nothin'. Only thing you could make him even happier with was coffee. And not that commissary broth. Crap, no. Had to be some fancy gourmet stuff. From Arabia if possible."
He paused as he felt the boy's eyes linger on him through the strands of matted hair. Jack forced himself not to look back at him. Not yet. He let his own eyes wander across the room, the shelves and table, the toys and books. He could see Lam and Landry behind the observation window now, watching them with concerned faces.
He got an idea.
Very slowly he rose to his feet and went back to the table. The kid's eyes were following his every move now. Jack could feel it in the back of his neck. He picked up a crayon and a piece of paper.
When the horse had started to pay attention to Jack instead of being scared to death by his presence, he had walked back into the house to get a cloth and a bucket with warm water and a bottle of disinfectant to clean the wounds. When he'd been back, she had fled, but stopped after a few steps and returned when he had started the talking again. Once she had felt secure he'd turned his back on her and placed the bowl with the water on the ground, soaking the cloth in it. He knew horses were curious despite their shy nature. She must have heard the splashing of the water, a sound that was familiar. So she'd approached him slowly, one step after another until he had felt her warm breath on his neck...
Jack drew a quick picture and folded the paper in half. They had told him the kid was probably aware of his surroundings even though he seemed not to react to anything than his own basic needs of water and sleep or using the toilet. Or looking at the books occasionally. It wasn't much, but it was something, he guessed.
There was somebody in there. Hidden.
Jack went back to his corner and sat down again, playing with the paper sheet in his callused hands. "You're not very chatty, huh? I was on a planet once... again I can't remember the name, but who cares. They're all called P3X-Y-something... at least they were in my days... anyway, those kids didn't talk. Actually they didn't do anything. The adults sucked out all the knowledge from them once they reached a certain age. Sucked their brains out and left them empty like living dolls. I made friends with a little girl about as old as you're now. She was smarter than Carter... did I tell you 'bout Carter? Well…"
There was a twitch and with a quick glance Jack saw the kid was curling up again, burrowing into himself. O-kay. No talking about Carter? He took a deep breath as he went on telling him about Merrin and how she had learned to color and how they'd finally changed the lives of the vacant children. By the time he ended, the kid had uncurled again and gazed at him. Jack held up the paper. "You wanna see what I've drawn for you? All you have to do is nod or blink once for yes. Taking it would be even better. But I guess you're not going to do that, right?"
Making eye contact for the first time, Jack looked at the pale face, framed by that wild uncombed hair. He was met by eyes as blue as the sky over Minnesota on a cloudless winter day. Those eyes didn't lock on Jack's for longer than a split second. They narrowed and then the boy ducked his head and the self hug tightened again.
Those eyes seemed to be almost as empty as a pond without fish. If there was anything in there, it was fear. They seemed to look right through him, yet they also seemed to look right into him.
Yet. in the split second their eyes met, Jack saw what he needed to see.
Quietly, he put the paper down on the cold naked floor and got to his feet, knees creaking.
"I'll be back, kid," he promised.
When he entered the room a few hours later, the boy was lying on the bed, the piece of paper clutched in his hands. He was cradling it to his chest like a treasure. Lam had told Jack he had not let go of it ever since he had picked it up.
O'Neill sat down in the same spot he had before. He told the kid what he'd had for lunch, how the apple pie didn't seem to be as good as it used to be. That Siler still had this big wrench and that Walter was still working miracles everywhere. "You know, that friend of mine and me - we always made bets on Walter forgetting or mixing up the Chevrons one day. He must be bored to death about this Chevron one opened, Chevron two opened, Chevron three... and so on..."
There was no sound coming from the boy on the bed. But he was still holding the paper sheet instead of hugging himself. Blue eyes gazed at the ceiling with no obvious focus. There was no spark of recognition, no sign he was actually listening to the guy in the corner.
Another day passed before Jack decided to try something new. He wasn't sure whether it was too early or not. That horse had given him more clues than this kid here. When she had come to see what he'd been doing with the water, he had shown her the cloth. She had danced around him for a while whenever he had held it out to her, but finally the curiosity had won over the fear and she had sniffed it, then mouthed it. She had been hungry, too, so she accepted the apple he had brought with him as a bribe. When he'd started to rub the warm wet cloth along her neck, she had startled and ran away.
He had gone to bed after a while and the next morning she'd been back drinking the water from the bucket. He had tried again and again she ran, but not far. Later that day she had finally let him clean the wounds. She had been exhausted and weak so there hadn't been much strength in her for more fighting or running anyway.
So taking it slow had been first priority. Jack had experiences with horses. His mother’s dad used to have a horse ranch and when Jack had been a boy he'd spent parts of his summers there, helping in the stables and riding the horses. When the old man died the ranch had been sold and Jack never had the opportunity to go back there. He had missed it for a long time.
He pulled out the chocolate bar and put it on the floor at the same spot he had left the picture before.
"I'll leave it here. It's good. You should try it."
In the early morning hours or late night hours, General Jack O'Neill, retired - or maybe not - was sitting in the commissary, picking an imaginary hair out of his coffee mug. Daniel had been right. This wasn't coffee. It was not even a poor excuse for it. It was dark water at best.
He rubbed a hand over his tired face. What the heck was he doing here? That kid needed help. A psych doc. Lam had told him he didn't eat the chocolate bar, didn't even look at it. They had put the IV line back into his arm. Needed three men to hold him down. Had given him a shot with something to calm him. Two hours later the boy had started to heave and rolled on the bed with cramps. Drugs didn't go well with him. Then he had pulled out the cannula again. "His arms are punctured and bruised already. If he keeps doing that we won't find a place to stick it in again," Lam had said.
Crap. Jack had almost yelled at her because they didn't wake him so he could sit at the kid's side through that. But Lam had just given him a stern look and said he, too, needed sleep.
Glaring into his coffee, he suddenly realized he was getting angry. That wasn't right. He shouldn't be mad at the boy. It wasn't his fault. God knew what they had done to him, whoever "they" were. He was scared and traumatized. Yet, Jack was angry for a whole lot of reasons. No, he realized suddenly. He wasn't angry with the kid. He could only blame himself and that's what he was doing right now. Because somehow all of this was his fault. He slammed the coffee mug down on the table.
He blinked. All tables around him were empty. And the light was dim, except for the glowing of course. Oh, here we go again. Only this time it wasn't Oma who was standing at Jack's table, surrounded by the soft white light.
And the glowy one chuckled. "Oh, it's general now, isn't it?"
"Retired," he muttered.
"Yes. So I hear," she said.
"Does everyone who dies around here get glowy now?" Jack asked irritated.
She shrugged. "Not happy to see me, Jack?"
He scrubbed a hand over his face and groaned. "Yes. Of course. Sorry....”
"I don't have much time. You have to get him out of here. Do not leave him again, you hear me? And don't tell them who he is. If you do that they'll want to keep him. Right now they think he's just a human child, somehow connected with the Ascended, standing under some sort of protection maybe." She got right to the point.
"They call him Luke," Jack snorted. "Because he came through the gate. Something to do with Skywalker."
He sighed. "They won't let me take him. He's a very sick little boy. He needs medical care. You of all people should know the procedure."
The glow slowly faded as she took her human form and sat down across him.
Jack blinked a few times. He had seen Daniel doing it, but it was still kinda creepy. "Do you stop by to see Cassie from time to time? She misses you." After a pause he added. “We all do.”
"You know I'm breaking the rules by just sitting here talking to you," she whispered. Jack knew if she could she'd probably cry. “I miss her, too. So much.“
"Yeah," he replied. "Sorry. It's good to see ya, Doc." After another pause he asked, “Why didn't they figure it out yet? Shouldn't his blood results give them a clue about who he is?“
She shook her head. “He's protected. They won't find out. Call Hammond. He'll help. And when the time is right, Jack,” she reached out a hand and put it on his. He didn't feel more than a feather light touch on his skin, but the hairs on his arm rose. It wasn't a bad feeling though. Like a small energy impulse slowly surging through his hand, "stop being a hermit. Call Sam."
He shook his head. "She's better off without me. She's... having that weird idea about us. It's not working."
"She's also your friend. And things change. She changed."
“So you are keeping an eye on us?“ Jack couldn't help but smile.
“Cassie and Sam,“ she corrected, a sad smile crossing her face in return. “From time to time. Now I have to go.“
Her hand was gone and she started to get glowy again.
"Wait," Jack called out before she could vanish. "I'll call Hammond - and that's it?"
There was a breeze covering his face and for a moment he was sure she'd just kissed his forehead. "Good bye, Jack O'Neill. Tell him I love him. Tell him to live."
Later, Jack was sitting with the boy again, the chocolate bar still untouched on the floor.
He had re-taken his place in the corner. After a while he stood and walked over to the bed. The kid was sitting cross legged on it, staring at the wall, the now crumpled paper still in one hand.
When he didn't flinch or leave the bed, Jack carefully sat down on the edge.
"Hey, you wanna hear about Daniel Jackson? He was my best buddy and the biggest pain in the neck you'd ever met. Half of the time I wanted to kick his butt and the other half of the time I wanted to lock him away so he wouldn’t get into trouble. He was damn special, too. Opened the gate. You know, that thingy you came through? It's called the chaapa... something... yeah, well, I know you won't correct me if I said Chapadai. You're still real quiet. Daniel was never quiet. At least not when he got on a roll about rocks... and gods of Ancient cultures or one new civilization we found. Didn't talk about himself much though. But if you got him started on any subject he was interested in, he'd never shut up. Try to watch a hockey game with that guy - it's a pain. You'd have to give him a book to read to stop him from complaining about how boring it is, yadda. That guy had no sense for a good game on a Friday night."
Jack paused and plucked at the bed sheets. There were dry blood spots from where the boy had pulled the cannula out yesterday. Apparently they hadn't dared to change the bedding yet, only the blankets and the pillow looked clean. "He was one helluva guy, too. Wandered off all the time and had a skull of iron. He never followed my lead well. But he saved our sixes countless times. And he died on me more than once. He could speak.... twenty three languages, I think. And a few alien ones. Could talk his head off and made friends with every creature on every planet. He never thought they could be evil until we were locked away or shot at. And even then he tried to negotiate... at least that's how he used to be." Jack stopped talking because he didn't know how to go on. Daniel had changed. Somewhere down the line the wide eyed innocence and the wonder over the infinite possibilities in this universe had worn off a bit. Daniel had become military. Part of him did.
Jack had forced him to become military. At least up to a point it had been his constant nagging and his forceful determination to train Daniel well so he was able to defend himself better.
There was a bitter taste in Jack's mouth and a lump blocking his throat. Thinking of Daniel hurt. He had tried to stop thinking about him some time ago. But he couldn't.
"I miss him," he admitted softly. "I miss his voice." He'd never allowed himself to tell anyone how much he missed Daniel. Not even himself. But here and now, the time seemed to be right.
When he looked up there was a single tear rolling down the kid's cheek.
Showered and dressed in green BDUs, O'Neill returned to the kid's room a couple of hours later. They had changed the sheets and there was a bottle of water on the table as well as a tray of food. Chicken soup and blue jell-o. The water bottle was open and half empty.
He picked up the bowl of jello and a spoon and sat down next to the kid on the bed again. "You need to eat," he said simply, feeling he could try to be a little more direct now. He'd always been the one who'd coaxed Daniel to eat, to get some sleep, to take his meds... he was good at the mother-henning thing. Daniel had hated it, probably rightfully so at times. But there it was.
He got no reaction.
"Right. I'll eat it then if you don't mind. There's still the chocolate on the floor. I know you're not too fond of blue jell-o. It's more Carter’s thing. She ate that stuff all the time. Sometimes I thought it was what made her so smart. Blue jell-o feeding her brain."
The kid flinched and shook his head wildly, his hands jerked up to cover his face and he ducked himself at the far end of the bed.
Whoa! That was a reaction at least. A weird one, but still... What was it with Carter that got him so skittish?
"Hey, it's okay. You don't have to eat the stuff. See? I'll do it. It's jiggling on my tongue..." Jack dug into the somewhat slimy blue mass and took a spoonful of it, then opened his mouth and showed him how the wobbly mass was jiggling.
Well, Cass always thought he was a funny guy. Obviously this little fella didn't think so.
He swallowed down the jell-o and grimaced. "Okay. What was I telling you last time? Right. Daniel. Daniel hated the infirmary. He was here so often, he could've called it his second home. Well, his third. His second home used to be my place, I guess. He once said he liked it there because of the roof platform with the telescope and because of the fireplace. Maybe he'd even liked it a bit because of me. We spent lots of time playing chess, bitching at each other over the TV program and having dinner. Daniel loved Chinese. And he liked pineapple pizza with ham. Weird, huh? He helped me work in my yard in the summer, too. And I helped him refurbish his place every time he came back from the death. He did that a lot. Anyway... he really hated this place. They were prodding and probing and doing blood tests all the time when he had been injured again. Big honkin' needles - yeah, you know those too, right? He was whining a lot at me to take him outta here. Sneak him out and take him home. And you know what?"
Blue eyes looked at him unresponsive.
Jack sighed. "I did. I took him home and promised Janet to take care of him, knowing she would court martial me and hang me up by my... never mind... if I'd screw it up. So." He bent over and when the kid didn't pull away he whispered, "I'm good at taking care of people. I have lots and lots of training. If you want out of here, all you have to do is work with me a little. You can start by picking up the chocolate and try it. I know you don't like the jell-o and that's okay. But you have to show them you're trying. You have to eat."
The boy moved away from him, left the bed and sat down in the corner where Jack usually sat. He put his skinny arms around his knees - and glared. For the first time, in the few days Jack was trying to get through to the kid, he actually looked at him with more than an empty stare or suppressed fear.
O'Neill thought he'd never been so relieved about an annoyed, stubborn look as this one.
"You wanna stay here? That's fine. I'm okay with that. Just thought you’d want to see the sun and the sky. Why don't you think about it and we'll talk about it when I'm back," Jack told him with a smile.
When he got up and walked towards the door, he heard a fast movement and a rustling of clothes as the kid snatched up the chocolate bar. Jack slowly turned around to see him finger the wrapper and rip it open, his eyes never leaving O'Neill as he hesitantly licked the chocolate, then took a small bite of it.
Jack gave him the thumb's up.
Due to being several days without real food, the kid threw up the chocolate bar a bit later. But he took a few spoonfuls of soup when Jack was sitting with him again, telling him about Minnesota. The soup stayed down. Each time he managed to get some soup or yogurt down Jack told him it was a step closer to freedom.
"Good," Jack encouraged softly when the boy tried a piece of bread two days later. "That's my boy. Take it slow."
He got a very small nod.
Jack wanted to hug the small human next to him, ruffle his hair, hold him.
He remembered the Palomino mare; how she had balked at every touch, every fast movement he'd made when he'd checked her wounds. She had allowed him to put gel on the injuries, but he learned fast to avoid touching her head or reach out for the mane to hold her in place. All he could do was talk. It hadn't been so bad. He'd never been a talkative person. He was more a man of action than of words. Yet, it had been okay with the animal. It hadn't been important what he'd said as long as it sounded gentle and safe to the horse's ears. He had caught himself telling her about the gate, about his failures and the nasty scum he had seen on his journeys through the universe. Oh, there had been good guys, too. But his nightmares never were about them.
The child needed to hear his voice, too. He never answered and he never laughed or really cried. He didn't want to be touched. But he listened. And he had started eating.
One evening - it must have been over two weeks since Jack had to leave his nice and peaceful cabin in Minnesota - the kid shook his head as he stood and told him he'd leave now and would be back in the morning.
"It's late, kid. You have to sleep and so do I," Jack said gently and put the book aside. He had started to read to him in the evenings. He thought he had never done so much talking in his life. Not even with the horse. But there was progress on more than one level. Lam had informed him several days ago the kid finally stopped trying to stay awake until he collapsed. So there was something Jack was doing right here. And if that meant talking and reading a lot – so be it.
More head shaking, frantically this time.
"What? You want me to stay?"
A shy nod. Then he pointed at the bed and back at Jack before he hurried to a corner and laid down on the floor.
Stunned at the offer Jack shook his head. "No. You'll take the bed, okay? Come on. It's your bed. I'll call and let them bring another bed in here. Come on, kid. Up you go... there...” With a sigh of relief he watched the boy reluctantly coming out of his corner and lying on his bed again. "Good. Now let me call Siler, okay? He'll bring a bed for me."
And that he did.
The next morning Jack watched his little friend scratching his messy hair.
"Do you know how to use a shower?" he asked. “You're getting a bit ripe.“
An uncertain shrug and more hair scratching.
"You wanna take one?"
When there was no reaction, Jack offered, "I'll come with you. I'll make sure nobody is in there while you shower."
The blue eyes darted back and forth between the pillow on his bed and the door. He had the picture Jack made for him stuck under the pillow at nights. When he was awake he carried it around, putting it on the table when he was eating, but never letting it out of sight. The paper was crumbled and tattered by now.
"Leave it here, okay? Nobody’s going to take it away," Jack tried, but got a firm head shake and narrowed eyes.
"It'll get wet if you take it with you," Jack reasoned.
The eyes narrowed some more and the soft lips tightened as the boy sat back on his bed, hugging himself.
Damn. Jack had been so close to get the kid to shower and wash his hair, change clothes maybe. He really didn't smell like roses. "Okay. It's okay," he soothed. "I’ll take a shower then. I'll be back in a few. You can start on your breakfast."
There was more head shaking as small hands waved at the breakfast tray, then at Jack and the door. Jack translated all of that and sighed. "Look. You don't wanna get clean - fine. It's your choice. I want to take a shower. You can either stay here or join me. That's the deal, okay? I won't leave you for long. You know I'll be back, right? We can have breakfast together then."
They looked at each other across the room. It was still hard to read those eyes which could become vacant from one moment to the other. But he was at least reacting now, interacting even. Now he reluctantly pulled the paper sheet out from under the pillow, unfolded it and looked at it for a moment. Then he got up and shuffled over to Jack. He held out his hand with the picture to him.
"You want me to take it?"
A tiny nod.
"O-kay. I'll take care of it while you shower. That what you want me to do?"
Jack took the battered paper carefully from the child and looked at the two stick figures he had drawn. He had scribbled his name under the taller one. He had drawn a sun and a house – the cabin. It had been a spur of the moment decision, coming to him when he'd decided to tell the kid about Nerrim and how he had made her color a picture for him. When he had come back to her planet after the changes she had colored with crayons on a wall. Stick figures.
"How did you do that?" one flabbergasted Doctor Lam asked O'Neill an hour later when she entered their room to take a look at her little patient.
He was clean, his hair washed, combed and now a tad lighter than before. It reached almost down to the kids elbows and he had refused to tie it together. It was easier for him to hide his face behind it, Jack assumed. He was wearing an oversized black t-shirt Jack had given him and a pair of boxers that were also way too big. But the kid seemed to be fond of wearing Jack's clothes. Siler had brought in some kid's clothes some time ago, but since the kid was totally unresponsive they stopped trying to make him wear them. The Abydonian robes hung over the chair. The kid had refused to part from them or even have them taken away for cleaning. But at least he wasn't wearing them anymore.
"He gained weight, he is clean and he cooperates," O'Neill told Lam.
"Yes, he does. I still would like a psychologist..."
Jack cut her off with a look. "You have your orders from Hammond. I'm taking him home. Now."
"He's still fragile in his behavior... Sir, you have to see my point of view here. We still don't know who he..."
"I know. I'm cleared to take him. All he needs is time to find his way back," he snapped at her, forgetting the boy was standing next to him. When he fled and huddled himself in the far corner of the room, pressing his hands on his ears, Jack cursed under his breath and left Lam standing where she was.
Squatting down near the child, but not too close, he started talking softly to him until the kid calmed down a little and took the hands from his ears.
"It's okay, kid. I'm sorry. I didn't yell at you. Hey, I've got your picture here..." Jack pulled it out of his pants pocket and held it out to him. After a moment, a hand shot forward and grabbed it. Then the boy just sat there and hugged the picture to himself. But at least he was calm again.
O'Neill got up and told Lam to inform Landry he wanted to see him ASAP.
When the paperwork was done, which included Jack O'Neill with two Ls signing more documents and papers than he had during the two years of being in command of the SGC – or so it felt to him - Doctor Lam reminded him of his promise to find a pediatrician for the boy and follow any recommendations about therapies said doctor would make. Well, it was part of the deal he had made so he could take the kid with him. He would think of a way to avoid that later. When Landry had asked Jack about the name they should write on the adoption papers he had said Arrom O'Neill without batting an eyelid.
Landry raised his eyebrows. "What kind of a name is that? Didn't they call him Luke?"
"Not me," Jack said curtly. "It's Arabic and means the Roman." Which was true. For Earth.
Lam shook her head and left her father's office in a huff. Landry, however, raised his eyebrows and a sudden understanding dawned in his eyes. “Arrom?“
“It's a name.“
“It means Naked One. I read those reports.“
“He likes it.“ Jack wasn't really surprised. Protected or not. And whatever spell Oma and friends had put on Lam so that she wouldn't make the connection even with the kid's blood results. Someone had to notice.
Landry pulled a face. “I don't want to know. We have our orders. But, Jack...“
“I hope Hammond knows what he's doing. And you, too. Take good care of him.“
At the end of the day Arrom O'Neill was allowed to leave the SGC, dressed in an oversized black t-shirt and blue boxer shorts which were reaching down to his calves. He still refused to wear the clothes Siler had organized. Only the sneakers he'd accepted after a long period of thinking.
Thank god it was summer and they'd get a private flight.
Some privileges of being a general - retired or not - were actually useful.
Clutching the colored picture in one hand the youngster walked next to Jack out of the mountain. O'Neill could feel how tensed the kid was. Anxiety was radiating out of every pore, even though his huge eyes seemed to be vacant again. Jack was worried about the flight and the long time they would have to spend in narrow space together. But the boy curled himself up into one of the seats as soon as they had entered the plane and pretended to sleep. He didn't move an inch until Jack finally coaxed him to drink some orange juice. After that he went back into the same position and stayed like this.
Jack had parked his truck at the small military airport since he hadn't expected to be gone for long. When he touched the kid's shoulder lightly to wake him, he startled and gasped for air, but relaxed quickly enough. He was exhausted, dark rings circling his eyes as they made their way to the truck. Jack thought it would have been so much easier to just carry him over to the car. He was so skinny, Jack thought he might weigh near to nothing.
Finally, when they had gotten rid of the military personal that insisted to escort them from the plane to the truck, Jack made his kid sit next to him in the passenger seat.
"Put your seatbelt on," he instructed him absently, his mind occupied with the thoughts of home and a hot meal.
The kid shook his head.
Making a choice between driving home like this and a discussion about street safety with a non talking, overtired, flustered kid, Jack chose to give in for now. It was dark, the streets out here would be almost deserted at this late hour.
While they were driving in silence, Jack realized they were completely alone with each other for the first time. At the SGC they had been watched 24/7. When Lam hadn't been in the observation room there'd be the security camera keeping an eye on them. On the flight home there had been the plane staff and their escorts.
Now it was just the two of them.
By the time they arrived at the cabin, the moon was sending a bright beam of light down to the pond. The little house was dark and Jack's friend, the horse lady, didn't show up to greet them. Jack wondered if she had moved on to other grounds and felt a pang of regret at that possibility. He'd miss her. But then she always came and went as it pleased her so maybe she was still around somewhere close.
While he unloaded the luggage, the boy climbed out of the truck and walked towards the cabin without looking back. Jack shouldered his bags and locked the truck. When he reached the house, the kid was sitting on the porch steps, looking out at the lake.
Jack sat down next to him and together they listened to the crickets and the loud croaking from a bunch of lovesick frogs calling their mates. It smelled like forest and there was a light warm breeze whispering in the trees behind the house. Jack took a deep breath of clean air and with the relief of being home came a feeling of certainty.
He had done the right thing. Out here, the kid could heal and find his way back from whatever dark place he was hiding in now.
"Welcome home, Daniel." Jack smiled at the silent boy next to him.
The darkness made it impossible to see if Daniel returned the smile, but Jack doubted it. He had never smiled so far.
Since they were both tired, the tour of the cabin would have to wait till next morning. Jack knew they had to go shopping, acquire more clothes and everything else Daniel would need. But first things first.
When Jack unlocked the door, Daniel stood at the threshold, his eyes darting through the room as if he was scanning it for potential danger. Jack went past him and switched on the lights.
"It's not as big as the house in the Springs, but it'll do. There are two bedrooms and we have to share the bathroom. You can stay in Charlie's room if you like. We have to dust it off a little tomorrow and get you new blankets," Jack told him while he opened the two windows to let in the fresh night air.
It really wasn't a big house. His grandfather had built the cabin and lived here after he had retired. It had one large room that served as a den and kitchen. The kitchenette was in a corner. A fridge, some cupboards, stove and sink to do dishes. Jack's dad had installed electricity when he used to come out here with his sons during spring break and parts of the summer. Jack had later installed a shower in the bathroom when he used to come out here with Charlie and Sara. The den was quite comfortable. With the fireplace, an old couch, and wooden walls, it looked like a room from of the Pondarosa from Bonanza. An old hand made dream catcher hung over one of the windows. Jack's grandmother, who was half Cherokee, used to believe in old Indian myths. He had never found out how his granddad, an Irish man, and his grandmother had met. But they seemed to be very happy with each other as far as Jack could remember.
A door at the back of the room led into a narrow hallway to the bedrooms and bath. Nope, it wasn't big, but it was cozy.
Daniel was still standing by the door like a statue. He didn't react to Jack's attempts of coaxing him to come in and close the door. He just stood there, stiff and unmoving.
"Hey, buddy, come over here. It's okay. It's better than the infirmary, believe me. And it's just you and me here, okay?" Jack had said this and several variations of it before, but with no success. With a silent sigh, he heaved himself off the couch and crossed the short distance to the kid. “Daniel,” he said softly. “It's me, Jack. You remember me, right? You remember...” He made a gesture at the room, “this. You've been here before... before whatever happened to you. You wouldn't have come with me if you didn't remember.“
Daniel blinked slowly and then ducked his head. His long hair fell over his face as he stared at the wooden floor. Then he took a tiny step inside, moved to the left and slid down the wall. Sitting there he pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them.
Jack rubbed his aching temples. He couldn't just leave him here. Daniel didn't want to be touched so he couldn't put an arm around him to reassure him either. He knew he needed to be patient. Somehow Daniel was like the horse. Again, Jack wondered if she stayed around while he'd been gone.
When she had returned after he had treated her wounds he'd been surprised. He had treated the injuries again, but it had always taken a lot of time and patience until she decided to let him near her. Yet, she'd come back over and over again. She'd accepted food and the treatment. After a while she had allowed him to untangle her mane and tail. He'd bought some horse brushes and a hoof pick when he had to drive into the next bigger town one day to get tools he couldn't get at Harry's. He'd also bought a few first aid meds for her just in case she'd get hurt again.
Reluctantly Jack left Daniel for now and walked into the kitchen. There was nothing edible in his fridge that wasn't moldy after his weeks of absence, but he discovered a few cans of Campbell's tomato soup in a cupboard.
As he started cooking, he said, "I'm gonna fix us some dinner, and don't shake your head, because you know you have to eat if you wanna stay here with me. You'll like it. We'll have to go shopping tomorrow, though. Not much left to eat. You need clothes and whatever else you like. Now, why don't ya sit down on the couch and we eat something, then hit the sack for today?"
As he stirred the soup he listened for any movements from the door.
When the soup was done Jack poured two bowls and carried them over to the small table by the couch. It smelled good and his own stomach growled. Daniel was still sitting by the door, eying the bowls suspiciously from under his long bangs.
O'Neill sat down and started to eat. "It's good. You should give it a try," he said easily, while in reality he was anxious.
What if this had been one of his not so bright ideas and he didn't get the kid to cooperate at all? The optimism he'd felt earlier faded away. He missed Daniel. He had missed him all this time he'd been gone. But now, in this moment, Jack wanted nothing more than his friend by his side to deal with this. Daniel would know how to make things better, how to reach out to … But this WAS Daniel. In some twisted way, Jack had gotten his friend back. Yet, the loss never seemed more evident than here and now. This Daniel was not even a shadow of who he used to be. He was broken. Broken in ways Jack couldn't even begin to grasp...
Okay, he ordered himself. Calm down. He just got here. He's made more progress over the last few days than Lam had expected.
She had said so. Daniel just needed time, and he wouldn't starve to death because he'd miss one meal. But he couldn't sleep by the door, right? Then again...
Jack put his spoon down and picked up Daniel's bowl of soup. "Alright. You can eat there. I know you're hungry. I'll bring it over to you, okay? You eat and stay there as long as you want. Don't rush it. Here ya go... just be careful. It's still hot." Placing the bowl in front of Daniel, he took a few steps back and crouched so he was on eye level with the kid. "Look, Daniel. I'd really appreciate it if you eat a little. Doesn't have to be much. Just show me you can do it, okay? Take your time. I'll go back over there and eat mine. It's much more comfy on the couch, ya know?"
He went back and continued eating his soup. It didn't taste bad. It was just too hot for a summer night. But it smelled good and he wanted Daniel to realize he was hungry, wanted to lure him in by using the soup's rich spicy smell as a bait.
By the time he had finished eating, Daniel was still sitting there, his eyes locked on the bowl of soup and the spoon in it.
Jack carried his dish into the kitchenette and then pointed to the door that led to the bedrooms. "I'll get the bed ready for you. Or I could just bring you a blanket if you’re not ready to come in yet. Either way I'll be right back. I'm just on the other side of the door, okay?" He went over, opened it and switched the light on in the hallway. "See? Just over here and getting a blanket. I'll leave the door open so you can see me."
God, kid, give me at least a nod. I know you can do it, Jack thought bewildered when there was no reaction at all.
He forced himself not to panic as he went into Charlie's room and turned on the light. He stood in the doorway for a moment. Crap, this room was a mess. He had started to use it as a storage room when he had come out here permanently. There were boxes with stuff still unpacked because he didn't really need it anymore. Charlie’s bed was still there, but the blankets were old and needed a wash, or maybe replaced altogether. There was an old closet which had been his when he'd been a kid and then Charlie had inherited it. Jack still kept his son’s belongings in it. He had meant to throw them away a long time ago, but there hadn't been any of Charlie’s things at home in the Springs. Sara had wanted to leave all of their son's belongings in his old room and Jack hadn't had the energy nor the will to take any of Charlie's things from Sara when he'd moved out. And it'd been easier for him to go on with his life without all the little reminders of his son in the house. He would always carry his son in his heart and the pain had lessened somewhat over the years he had traveled through the gate, giving his life a new meaning, a new goal.
Out here, though, he never had the guts to open that closet and put Charlie's things into the trash. He never looked at it either, but he sought some weird comfort from the knowledge part of Charlie was here. Would always be here. Charlie had loved this place and Jack couldn't remove Charlie from the cabin. He just couldn't.
It wasn't much anyway. Just a couple of things they'd left here so they wouldn't have to haul them back and forth every year. Like the snorkle and the fins. Charlie used to snorkle and find treasures in shallow parts of the pond. There were old sand toys like shovel and bucket and a brailer to catch frogs and butterflies.
Maybe one day Daniel would like to snorkle and catch frogs...
Shaking himself out of his heavy thoughts, Jack pulled the old blanket from the bed. He had to clean the room and make it a home for Daniel. If Daniel would ever come out of his place by the front door.
Jack grabbed the musty pillow, too, and headed back out.
When he entered the living room again, Daniel was slowly eating his soup.
He hauled the blankets over to where Daniel sat and crouched in front of him. "Hey, you okay, kid? Here are the blankets and a pillow. It's not very clean I'm afraid. It hasn't been used in a long time, but we'll get you new stuff tomorrow.“
Daniel held out his half empty bowl to Jack. He reached for it and the boy let go of it before their hands could touch. Jack almost let it drop and as he juggled the bowl to get a hold on it, some of the tomato soup spilled on the floor. Daniel froze and his eyes grew even wider if that was possible. He pressed himself back at the wall, jerking his arms up to cover his head.
Oh, for crying out... Who the hell had done this to Daniel? Who had turned him into this scared, traumatized, little kid? Jack felt his gut twitch with anger and grief.
"It's okay. No harm done. You did good, Danny. Made it half way through it," Jack soothed him, relieved when Daniel relaxed slightly. Putting the dish aside, he pointed at the blankets. "You can sleep here. It's okay. I'll give you the tour of the house tomorrow then. But I have to close the front door so no raccoon wanders in to camp beside you." When Daniel didn't respond in any way, Jack thought it was probably okay. He rose to his feet and slowly pulled the door shut, keeping an eye on Daniel. But the kid didn't seem to feel caged or threatened as his way out was closed.
Jack took the bowl away and returned with a wet cloth to wipe off the spilled soup. Daniel had pulled the blanket over to him and was fingering it indecisively.
After he had cleaned the floor, Jack watched the boy for a moment before he said, "I'll go to bed now. I'm right over there in the left room. I'll leave the doors open. If you need me you have to come and get me though." As an afterthought he added, "Or call me."
Daniel pulled the blanket around himself, but didn't lay down.
Jack forced himself to leave.
As he was lying in bed he listened to every sound from the other room. Were there footsteps? What if the kid ran out into the woods for some reason? Should he go sleep on the couch so he was in the same room? Wasn't it cruel to just leave him there on his own?
There was a pattern though.
Daniel had picked up the picture when Jack had left him. He had started to eat the chocolate when Jack told him he would go. The same had happened with the soup. Was it the fear to be left alone that helped Daniel to make the decision to interact? Was it dirty play to use that fear to get Daniel to cooperate? Maybe not. Maybe the kid just got it that Jack was backing off and allowing him to make his own choices in his own time.
Damn, he'd never get some sleep this way.
Dragging himself out of bed, Jack snuck out of his room and down the small hallway to peer through the open door. He had left a light on so Daniel wouldn't panic if he'd wake up in darkness at night.
The kid was still sitting there, his head lolled onto his left shoulder. He was asleep, one hand clutching the blanket, the other hand holding the tattered piece of paper with the picture Jack had drawn for him.
Taking a deep breath, Jack went to get his blankets and sleep in the couch.
The man was back.
She had come to his empty house several times to drink from the water.
This time when the sun was high in the sky she came out to the clearing and smelled smoke coming from the roof. There was also the smell of the food of the two legged. It was the first sign that he was back. She rounded the house to see if he had brought something out for her, when she noticed another two legged. A young one. She knew young ones who wanted to be carried around by her. They were loud, pulled the reins so her mouth hurting, poked their shoes into her belly and slumped up and down on her back so it ached after a long day of being around those young ones.
She was very careful and stood back by the corner of the little house, watching this young two legged who was sitting on the pier. She thought it must be a mare. The hair was long and straight. Two legged mares had long hair, not the stallions.The warm summer breeze played with a few strands of it, just like it did with her mane sometimes. She liked the wind playing with her mane. Liked the wind whipping around her head and ears when she was running fast.
The child looked funny. All two legged looked funny in the fur they wore. She knew they weren't born with it. They had to "dress" in it. This one seemed to have a fur much too big for his small frame. Maybe it belonged to the man? Was the child the man's young one? Where did it come from? Had it been taken away from him and he had rescued it from evil hands and brought it back home?
She scrabbled the grassy ground with her left hoof and jerked her head when a mosquito threatened to bite her neck.
Nobody had ever come to take her home again. She had been taken from the mountains and then lived in a closed house with others of her kind. The two legged lived in houses, too. But they were free to leave. She and her mates had been held as prisoners, except for the times when she'd been allowed to walk in circles, carrying people on her back. That had happened a lot after one man had spent many days to hurt her and made her wear something called a saddle. The man had hit her with a stick and tied her legs together with a rope. But she had fought, using her hooves, legs and teeth. They had left her without food and water until she'd been weak and could not fight that bad man anymore. Then he had tried again and again... and one day she had carried him just so that he would stop hurting her.
They had said she was tamed then.
The young one still sat at the pier, legs swinging and toes splashing in the water. The two legged had funny toes. They were funny creatures, very soft and breakable.
She had never seen a young two legged being so still. She knew them running, laughing, screaming, fighting and playing all the time.
Careful, so he would not see her, she took a step closer to the lake.
Then there was the creaking of the wooden porch steps as the man came out of the house. Usually she would turn and greet him with a low snicker. She felt a warm flutter in her belly at his sight. She had missed the man. Had missed his gentle voice and large hands.
But she wasn't sure of the young. Would he come and demand to ride her if he got sight of her? Would the man tell him not to?
He talked to her as he stood and watched the child, too.
"Hey, beauty. Missed me?" Jack watched the Palomino as she stood a few feet away. She didn't come closer, which seemed to be a little odd. Maybe she was careful now that she hadn't seen him in a while.
Then he spotted Daniel sitting on the pier. Okay, maybe that was something she'd have to get used to. He pulled out an apple from behind his back. He had seen her coming and wanted to give her a treat.
"C'mon. He's not gonna bite ya. Look. I got an apple. Come over here, come on," he coaxed her.
She took a couple of steps closer as she craned her neck and head as much as she could. Even her nostrils seemed to stretch as she parted her lips and tried to make her teeth long enough to get the apple from his hands.
Jack chuckled and humored her. He held out his arm so she could snatch the apple. A moment later she was chewing happily, juice dripping to the ground as she munched.
"Meet Daniel," he said and waved at the boy. "You'll like him."
She didn't seem to be so sure of that. Once she was finished with the apple, she took another step closer and nudged him with her nose as if to say thanks. Then she turned and walked away.
"Come back later so I can take the burs out of your tail," he called after her. He also noticed she was limping a little. Not bad, though. She might have a stone stuck in her hoof.
Jack walked out to the pier where Daniel was sitting for hours now, gazing out onto the water.
When he woke up this morning he had found Daniel next to the couch on the floor, wrapped into Charlie’s blankets, the tatty paper sheet tightly clutched in one hand. Jack had let him sleep and silently slipped out and took a shower. When he'd dressed and returned, the kid was sitting with his back to the couch, looking at his picture.
"Mornin` Danny," he had greeted him brightly. "Slept well?"
Daniel had looked up and nodded his head yes. Well, hello. That was something. They seemed to have their previous level of communication back at least.
"Good. You want me to show you the shower?"
The head had turned from right to left and back.
"O-kay. But you have to wash up a bit. Bathroom's next to Charlie's room. I put your toothbrush and towels in there." Jack had taken the basic stack of things with him Siler had gotten for the kid. A toothbrush, hairbrush, towels, some underwear, a couple of shirts and two pair of jeans. "Why don't you go and get ready. I left some of the new clothes in the bathroom for you. In the meantime I'll see if I can catch us some fish for breakfast."
He had held his breath, not sure if Daniel would comply now that he had overcome his fears of staying in the house, but the kid finally scrambled up and left. Jack followed him through the hall and was beyond relief when Daniel entered the bathroom and after a few moments of hesitation started to turn on the water and washed his face. So far, so good.
Jack had stood there a few moments until he'd been sure Daniel would handle things on his own for the moment, before he had gone out to the lake to set up the fishing rod.
It hadn't taken long before Daniel had come out and sat down next to him. Jack had noticed he'd brushed his hair and looked clean. But he was still wearing Jack's shirt and boxers.
But there had been other things more important than Daniels state of clothes. They needed to go shopping. And Jack had no idea how to get the kid to town and through the shopping without freaking him out.
Well, first they had to have breakfast. Jack had caught two fish and offered Daniel to show him how to prepare them. But he'd gotten no response. Daniel had been sitting there, his toes splashing in the water, gazing out at the lake and the wild geese that were dimpling far away near the other shore. When Jack had asked him if he was okay sitting there until breakfast was ready, Daniel had nodded absently.
He had prepared the fish and grilled it over the open fireplace outside the cabin, all the time keeping an eye on Daniel, who didn't move and didn't look back at him.
Then they had eaten their fish out at the pier. Daniel didn't seem to like it very much. He'd taken a few bites and grimaced, which made Jack grin. "So you can pull faces after all, huh? How about a smile for a change?"
Could have worked.
So here they were now, Daniel still sitting at the pond and Jack agonizing his poor brain over how to get him moving and into the truck. When the mare was gone he walked over and sat down next to the kid again. "We need to go shopping, Daniel."
A tiny head shake. No.
"Yes we do. We need at least food."
Nononono went the head, hair flying.
Scrubbing a hand over his neck, Jack thought fast. Then he said, "Look, kid. You didn't like the fish, right? Well if we don't go shopping, fish is all you'll get around here."
Daniel stared at the water and hugged himself. Jack wished he would be able to see his face, but it was hidden behind all that hair. However, the boy's shoulders were tensed and the self hugging was so tight he might be cracking a rib.
This was going nowhere. Jack knew this wasn't the attitude of a stubborn child. Daniel was scared at the thought of going shopping. If it was about going to town in general or meeting foreign people, Jack couldn't tell. Last night the kid had crawled into himself even more on the flight and the drive home. But he had complied at least. Like he had known he had to go with the flow to get out of the mountain. But now that he was here he didn't seem to want to leave again.
Jack sighed. "I'll call Harry and ask him to come out here and deliver. You wanna come in and help me make a list?"
Harry was an elderly surdy guy with friendly gray eyes and not a single hair on his head. He used to polish his dome with a big red-white checkered hanky. He'd been running the little grocery store in town as long as Jack could remember. He also offered fishing equipment, dog and cat food and some useful tools like axes and knives. His store was also the local post office and a hang out spot for the old men who would sit in the shade of the store's porch in the summer and inside in the back room in winter with some drinks and a deck of cards.
When Jack helped Harry to unload the pick-up and carry the bags inside, he knew Daniel was going to be the subject of gossip at Harry's over the next few weeks. Not much happened in the little village near the cabin that called itself "town". Harry took a look at the kid sitting on the pier. "Is that your niece? Didn't know you had any. Your brothers never show up here."
"Nah, he's mine," Jack said, realizing that he had poured fuel to the gossip now. But now that he said it, there was no turning back, so he added, "I adopted him."
Harry, who was permanently chewing on a toothpick, shoved said pick from one corner of his mouth into the other as he asked, "Him? What's with his hair?"
"He likes it that way." Jack shrugged as he fumbled his money from the back pocket of his jeans. At the store Harry would take his Visa, but Jack opted for paying cash so he didn't have to drive into town anytime soon to pay a bill. Who knew when and if Daniel could be coaxed into leaving his spot at the pier...
"Comes from the city, eh? Little punk you got there?" It wasn't meant as an insult, merely a statement. Harry wasn't one for prejudice. He was friendly to anyone who'd enter his store, no matter the color of skin, hair cut or anything else as long as they paid and behaved like civilized people. He was just simple. And a long haired boy wasn't something he was used to.
"Nah," Jack said again as he handed the money over to the older man. "He's shy. Doesn't talk much. Is a bit skittish. No punk."
"Well, bring him down one day and get his hair cut." Harry shrugged, as he pulled out his hanky and wiped it over his bald head. He pocketed the money away. "I'm looking for some help in the store. None of the youngsters around here give a damn. Not that I blame them. Who in his right mind wants to work in an old dusty store. Maybe your kid gets bored out here and wants a job."
"Sure," Jack said noncommittally and a moment later waved as the pick up left in a cloud of dust.
In the afternoon Daniel started walking around the cabin a couple of times. Jack didn't follow him. He sat on his porch and watched him vanish behind the house, then waited for him to come back. When that didn't happen after the third walk-around, he got up, went inside and peered out of the back window from his bedroom. The kid was wandering across the clearing towards the woods, then turned and came back, which made Jack sigh in relief. They hadn't established any do's and don't's yet. Actually, O'Neill was just observing Danny right now and wanted to interfere as little as possible. But knowing this was Daniel he had a feeling that wandering off was something they had to talk about in the near future.
He went back to the porch as Daniel cornered the house again. The sun had come around to the front and it was getting hot. Jack slapped at a few mosquitoes that wanted to settle on his arm. Daniel stopped his walk in front of the house and looked up at the blue sky and the sun. Then he sat down next to the small path that wound itself down to the lake. He sat there and held his face up into the sun, his eyes closed.
For the first time since Jack had met this reincarnation of Daniel there was something like peace on his face as he seemed to soak up the sun like a sponge.
When Daniel sat in the midday sun for a while, Jack tried to coax him into putting some sun block on his face, arms and legs, but the kid refused and rather retreated to the shadow of the porch.
Jack started to clean up Charlie's room. He carried the boxes out and stacked them in his own bedroom, making a vow to himself to unpack them sometime later that week. He dusted and swept the room and took a better look at the blankets and pillow. Maybe washing them would be enough. They had to do that the next day though since it was too late to get them dry by tonight. Jack tried to get Daniel involved a few times, but had no luck with it. The boy leaned in the doorway and watched for some time and then quietly vanished and went back to his spot on the porch.
So two hours later Jack was sweaty, dusty and thirsty. The room was clean, if still not suitable for a kid. Well, it would do until Daniel was better and they could drive into the next city to get some new furniture and other stuff. Jack sat on the bed and wiped sweat from his brow, when suddenly a small figure emerged from the hallway, holding a glass of water.
"Thanks." Jack smiled and took it carefully, making sure their hands weren't touching.
Daniel looked around the room, showing at least a little bit of interest before he hung his head and those skinny arms went around his body again.
Oh, great. Now what?
Jack took a gulp of the water and held the cool glass against his forehead for a moment, before he tackled this new crisis. "What's wrong, Daniel?" He let a moment pass before he tried again. "I know you can show me. Try at least, okay? What's bothering you? Come on, buddy. Just let me know and I'll fix it." When Daniel pulled up his shoulders and avoided Jack's eyes, he got a clue. "You don't like the room?"
A tiny nod and more self hugging. Daniel took a step back into the shadows of the hallway.
"Hey, hey, easy. It's not a great room. I know. We'll work on it. As soon as you'll feel safe enough to go shopping we'll get new stuff, okay? I can't do that without you, kid. I need to know what you’d like it to be. It's your room, so it's gonna be your choice."
Reluctantly Daniel came back in and shook his head. Then he stepped forward and took the pillow from the bed. Clutching it to his chest he seemed to think of what to do next, then he spun around and left the room.
"O-kay," Jack drawled and followed him. Daniel walked into Jack's bedroom and put the pillow down on the floor next to the bed. He pointed at the pillow, then at himself and at Jack. Then he hurried out again and a moment later came back with his blanket.
"Right. I get it." Jack sighed, slapping a hand over his face. He should have known.
Then he started to move the boxes back into Charlie's room. When he worked on dismantling Charlie's bed so he would get it through the doors, Daniel came in and sat down at the opposite wall to watch him. Jack started to explain every step of what he was doing, for what it was worth. Daniel liked being talked to and as Jack was working and talking, the kid relaxed and stopped hugging himself.
He ran out three more times to get the water glass refilled while Jack set up the bed again in his own room.
All in all it wasn't a bad start.
In the early morning hours when it was still cool and the heat of the day was only foreshadowed by the few warm spots of sunlight breaking through the clouds, the Palomino left the woods to visit her two legged friend again.
Carefully, without making a noise, she stepped out into the clearing, taking in the scent of grass and morning dew as she approached the still dark house. She was thirsty, so she made her way around the cabin and toward the lake. It was painful to walk for some time now. She had felt the pain in one of her hooves a while ago. Now she couldn't run with the wind anymore. Too harsh was the pain. She had stayed in the shadows of the trees for a few days so the sun wouldn't weaken her even more. There was enough grass. But she needed water. And maybe the man would help her.
Crickets were singing sleepily and a few early birds were kiwitting in the trees. The frogs had stopped their nightly music for now.
She limped past the house and to the sandy cove with the reed. There was a red thing lying at the shore for some time now. She had feared it at first, but found out it was just a dead thing that wouldn't move of its own. It smelled wooden, something she knew. Carefully she stepped around it and into the shallow cool water until it reached her knees. It brought immediate relief for her aching hoof. She didn't know what was wrong with it, but walking hurt more and more each time the sun came out. The man would look at it, but she still wasn't sure of the young foal. So she had only come a few times since the man was back. She had hoped the young one would leave. But after the sun had set five times, he was still here.
He was different. Silent. Still. Quiet.
When she had quenched her thirst, she looked up and spotted the young one sitting at the pier again. He sat there often. Now he looked at her and she stepped back on the sandy ground, ready to flee if he would come to her and demand to ride her or pull at her mane.
But he just gazed at her and then slowly let himself slide down from the pier into the water. She took more steps back and when her hoof clonked against the red wooden thing, she jumped sideways and froze, trembling as a searing pain shot through her hoof and leg. The crickets stopped singing and everything seemed to be very still around her. She blew up her nostrils and smelled the rich scent of the water, the reed and the foal that was swimming towards her and then all so slowly emerged from the water. He waded out until he was standing on the sandy ground, the shallow water playing around his bare feet.
There they stood, facing each other in wonder. She had never seen a mane that long on a two legged stallion foal. She knew the two legged had another word for it. Boy. His mane was only a shade darker than hers and the eyes were like the sky on sunny winter days.
Jack woke up with a start, knowing something was not right. He was fully awake the second he opened his eyes and his antenna told him to be alerted. He sat up and one look at Daniel’s bed told him the kid was up and about already. Which was nothing new. This Daniel got up early and went to bed late. He didn't seem to need much sleep. And didn't seem bothered by being up with the birds. Not like his adult... Not as his... before self. Whatever he would call it.
Or maybe he just didn't allow himself enough sleep. He always seemed to be on guard, ready to jump or run and hide. Jack remembered Lam telling him Daniel had tried to keep himself awake while he'd been at the SGC. Once Jack had arrived, the kid had gradually calmed enough to allow his body to sleep when necessary. But sleep still seemed to be an issue. Daniel was tossing and turning in his bed at nights, but never screamed or called. When Jack had woken up to the restless moving in the other bed the second night, he had patted Daniel's back, still half asleep. Daniel had bolted out of bed and curled up into the corner of the room and it took Jack almost half an hour of talking and coaxing to get him back to bed.
So, no touching.
Jack got out of bed and left the cabin in shorts and t-shirt. It was already morning but only barely light outside. A first look around revealed there was no forlorn figure sitting at the pier or anywhere else close to the house.
When he stepped down the porch and looked out at the lake, he saw Daniel just getting out of the water at the cove, his figure merely a silhouette in the morning dawn.
His first impulse was to call out to him. But then he saw the horse standing by the boat.
Jack bit his lower lip to prevent himself from calling out anyway, to tell Daniel to be careful. He took a step back into the shadows of the house and watched, his heart racing. What if she felt attacked? She most likely would just turn and run. But you never knew... On the other hand Jack realized something was going on down there. Something that didn't need interrupting.
The mare scurried a bit, danced sideways, then stopped again. Now she craned her neck and head towards Daniel, who stood perfectly still.
Jack slowly walked alongside the house and took a small path that wound itself through raspberry bushes. He didn't feel the few scratches on his arms as he made his way through the bushes and the tangled brushwood. He didn't want to be seen, but wanted to get closer to watch and – if necessary - interfere. Finally he came out a few feet off the cove where the horse and the boy were still observing each other.
She must have heard him coming anyway. She raised her head and turned it towards him, then focused on Daniel again.
Jack watched as she stepped forward and craned her neck again until her mouth and nose were only inches away from Daniel's face. Then she snuffed. In slow motion Daniel extended his hands and let her first sniff and then lick them.
O'Neill was holding his breath as her huge head suddenly nudged the kid's chest in a friendly manner. Daniel tentatively reached out for the tuft of mane between her ears, then froze in his movement. She nudged him again and he stumbled a little, but caught himself before he could fall on his butt.
This time his fingers touched the mare's skull and mane, caressing her gently. She snickered softly and her lips nibbled along the collar of his wet black t-shirt.
"Yes," Jack whispered, mentally punching air. "You go, kid. Make friends. She's nice company."
He silently returned to the cabin, leaving the horse and the kid alone, knowing they were okay and nothing bad would happen.
Daniel came running home a while later when Jack was just grilling some sausages for breakfast over the fire outside. Rising his eyebrows at the unusual animated behavior, he had to smile. This was new. Usually Daniel just sat somewhere. Or wandered around aimlessly. This was good. Great, actually.
But as he came closer, Jack could tell something was up. Daniel stopped by the fire and gestured towards the cove, waving at Jack to follow him.
"What's up, buddy? You met the horse? She's nice, huh. I have to stay and watch the sausages."
Daniel shook his head wildly and ran away, then stopped and waved his arms at Jack, impatience written all over his face. He grabbed his leg and hobbled a few steps, then stopped again. Jack translated and got the sausages out of the fire. He remembered the horse had been lame a couple of days ago.
"I'll be right there. Go ahead," he told the kid as he went into the house to get the hoof pick. He had forgotten about the laming and the mare hadn't shown up so frequently lately.
When Jack reached the cove, the horse was on the sandy beach, standing on three legs. Daniel sat at her feet and gently stroked a hand over the injured leg.
"Be careful, Daniel," Jack warned before he could hold back.
To his surprise the kid gave a short nod, but continued to stroke the leg. The horse was tousling his hair with her soft mouth and snuffing into it.
"Hey, beauty, what have ya done? Wanna let me take a look at it?" Jack approached her slowly and rubbed a hand over her neck. She snickered a greeting and took her head away from Daniel for a moment to nudge Jack's belly. "You made friends fast, right? What's up with that, hm? You had me dancing around you on egg shells for weeks and he just says 'hi' and that's it? Okay, Daniel, let me look at that leg now... go sit over there where she can't hurt you if she shies away, please."
Daniel got up and complied. Jack stroked his hand down along the horses shoulder and upper leg until he reached the slightly swollen and hot rim of the hoof. Daniel sat back on his heels and watched. Jack got hold of the leg as the mare started to stagger backwards. "Shh, easy, baby... I got it... okay..."
Daniel continued to watch as Jack probed the coronet of the hoof. It was hot and pulsing. The horse tried to get loose once more, letting out a high pitched snicker of pain. Jack raised his voice just enough to get through to her. He had to look under the hoof, too. "Easy now. You have to let me look... there... all right." He let go of her leg and she stormed off to the cabin, stopped there and limped a few more steps before she came to a halt.
"That's bad," Jack mumbled, scratching his head. Then he turned to Daniel, "Go and give her some company. I think I remember what to do."
Daniel nodded and scooted off.
When Jack returned from the cabin with a bucket of lukewarm water and some Palmolive in it, Daniel stood by the horse. He stroked both his hands up and down the sides of her head. She had her chin on his shoulder, her eyes were heavy lidded with agony and the ears were hanging down a bit.
"Okay, here we go,” Jack said as he put the bucket down. "I need your leg one more time, baby.... come on, this will help ya. Right, put it in here... good girl... Aw, crap, no... " She had her leg half into the bucket and then pulled it out. The water spilled over Jack's feet and he had to go inside and fill the bucket again. This time he tried it differently. He got a cloth and wet it before he carefully wrapped it around the hoof so she would know what was coming next. When he tried to pick up her leg again, she carefully placed the hoof into the bucket and stood.
"Good. Just like that, beauty. Good girl. Daniel, stay with her. She needs to stay like this for about fifteen minutes. She's got an abscess and it's important to have the hoof clean and the sole soft. I guess she cut herself at the sole. There's a small gap there and I think it's infected. I'll get some things from inside. You think you can handle this?"
Daniel nodded while he continued stroking her head. His hands seemed to become more secure as he caressed the soft fur and tousled the mane.
Jack went back into the cabin and got the salve he had bought when he had to treat her barb wire wounds. It was great stuff and seemed to work miracles on minor wounds. Reading the instructions on the back of the box quickly he decided it would work on the hoof too. He also got a bottle of Iodine and a small syringe without a needle.
Daniel and horse were still locked to each other and Daniel was still stroking. It seemed to soothe them both. They looked as if they had been friends for a long time. Both, kid and horse, totally relaxed now as the first sun rays played over them, making Daniel's hair look like it had golden strands woven into it. They were eye to eye now, something a horse wouldn't normally tolerate for a longer period of time since it was a threatening behavior. However, with these two there seemed to be a connection as they held eye contact.
They were beautiful to look at and in this moment Jack knew once more he had done the right thing bringing the kid here.
"You're doing great, Danny," he said in a low voice as they waited for the minutes to pass. Slowly the sun crept up behind the trees and dawn turned into light fast now.
When the time was up the horse became agitated again. Jack coaxed and soothed his four footed lady until she stopped rocking back and forth on her not hurting legs and allowed him to touch the injured hoof again. The bucket was kicked halfway towards the lake. It didn't matter since it wasn't needed anymore now. Daniel was still at her head and it seemed as if he was holding her in place with just his small hands fondling and crawling behind her ears and over her soft nose.
Jack crouched next to her and placed her injured leg on his bent knee. He dried the now clean hoof with a fresh cloth and probed the small cut. As he pressed on the sole, she jerked the leg away.
"There's pus coming out of the cut. I'll put some iodine into it and make a gauze with the salve," O'Neill muttered. He filled the syringe with iodine and then carefully reached for her leg again, which she gave him reluctantly. After he had cleaned the cut with disinfectant he smeared salve all over the sole of the hoof and also pressed some salve soaked gauze into the sole. "Don't stop stroking her, Daniel. I'll have to hold the hoof so it won't get dirty again... okay.... easy...”
He packed the hoof with the salve and several pads of gauze so nothing could get into the wound. Then he wrapped a bandage around the hoof up to her coronet. He covered this with duct tape to hold the bandage in place. He made sure it wasn't too tight, but would hold even if she was walking around. He figured she wouldn't run much with that aching hoof. He also hoped she'd stay in the neighborhood.
"Best would be to keep her at the house," he mused as he got up and thoughtfully watched her as she shook Daniel's hands from her head and looked down at the bandaged leg. She let out an annoyed snort and shook her head again. Then she flehmed. The salve smelled disgusting.
Jack grinned at the expression on the horses face as she turned around and showed him her backside. "Yeah, right. Nice to get some gratitude for playing the doctor," he snorted as he wondered how to convince her to stay for a few days so she wouldn't rip up the bandage. He had to change it tomorrow. He had never tried to put a rope around her neck or anything like it. Right now she was still hurting enough so she wouldn’t go far. Still he needed her to be careful with that hoof.
"Daniel," he started. When the kid looked at him, he continued, "We need to build a paddock. You gonna help me with it?"
For a moment he just gazed at him with that absent minded look in his eyes, but then he gave a firm nod.
Jack thought quickly. He had wood in his shed. When he had come out here he had considered getting some chicken and a goat to be more independent. He had wanted to build a corral for the goat and a chicken house for the chicken. So once he had settled in he'd bought wood for fences and a chicken house. But he had never gotten around doing it. Harry had provided him with all he needed, but Jack had been drunk a lot in the first summer out here and mostly spent his days sitting on the porch, cradling his beer or whiskey bottle. Nothing much had gotten done.
Jack had stopped drinking the strong stuff shortly after the horse had started to visit him. She didn't like the smell. And he had learned once again that drinking didn't solve anything, so he had stopped with the Jack Daniel's. Then fall had come, followed by a strong winter... Now it was summer again and there were still no chicken nor goat.
But the wood was still there. And the oak tree would spend shadow from the midday heat.
Well, first he had to convince Daniel to put on new clothes. He was still wet from his bath in the lake and Jack thought it was a good reason for him to finally wear something that would fit. So far Daniel had only changed his shirt and boxers to wear fresh ones from Jack.
Maybe now he would agree to put on some of his own clothes. They had such a break through today. Jack was still amazed at the kid's ability to touch the horse and comfort her.
Perhaps the ice was melting now and would show how much of Daniel Jackson was still underneath.
The sun was burning on Jack's bare back three hours later as he hammered fence posts into the dry grassy ground. He had spikes drilled into the posts so they would hold better. It was easier to bury them into the earth like this. He was using the heavy working hammer and the dull boom boom boom sound had to be heard over a long distance, as he hammered another post in.
Thank god it had rained while he had been in Colorado. The ground wasn't as concrete as it had been weeks ago. Still it was hard work. Jack stopped to wipe the sweat from his forehead.
"Daniel," he croaked, then cleared his throat and called again, forcing himself to make his voice sound brisk, but not annoyed. "Daniel!"
The kid was no where in sight. Jack had sent him for a bottle of water ten minutes ago. Maybe he was cuddling the horse again. She had accepted the bucket of grain Jack had offered her. He had bought grain in the winter months for her and there was still plenty left. He couldn't give her too much since he needed her on a low energy level so she would be calm and easy to handle. But she was hungry and the grass in front of the house was dry and short. Jack made a note to buy some balls of hay from one of the farmers in the area.
After she had finished the food she just stood there dozing, still in pain.
Jack put the hammer down and marched around the house to find the mare still standing at the same spot. She turned her head and looked at him, then hung her head again.
O'Neill entered the house, thinking the kid might be in there to escape the heat. Then again Daniel spent as little time in the house as possible. Since they'd gotten here he was outside whenever he could from the early morning hours till late at night. He needed space. He needed to be on his own and he needed fresh air and the sun. He had gotten a nice tan already.
"Daniel, are you in here?" Jack blinked a few times as he entered the cabin. It was dim in here as they had all the curtains closed to keep the heat outside.
Daniel wasn't in the living room and not in the bed- or bathroom.
Where did he go? He wasn't at his favorite spot on the pier or the porch. Did he run into the woods? Jack grabbed a bottle of lukewarm water and went outside again. They'd had a small argument about getting out of the wet clothes earler. Well, Jack had done the arguing while the kid just shook his head and glared. After a moment of frustrated reasoning and coaxing he had let it go. It was warm and most parts of the shirt and shorts were already dry again. He knew somewhere down the line things would have to change. But Daniel was just showing signs of getting out of his catatonic state and Jack feared he would chase him back to his inner hiding place if he started pushing things too hard.
Daniel, however, had suddenly lost any interest in helping with the paddock. He had sat on the grass near the old shed, arms around his pulled up knees and had just watched Jack pulling out the wood for a while. Maybe the effort to come out and be there for the horse had worn him out. It was, after all, a major breakthrough.
When Jack had asked him to bring some water out, Daniel had rose and walked away without letting him know whether he would comply or not.
And that had been the last Jack had seen of him.
Jack sighed. He was still not sure what was going on in that little head. This was Daniel, all right. The suffering horse had lured him out to act because helping other beings was just what Daniel was about. So here was yet another proof there was a working mind inside this child.
But did he remember? Or was he just a kid without memories? He recalled the briefing and the report he had read from Lam about the ascended woman showing up to protect Daniel and to make them call Jack.
Sha're. It must have been Sha're. Not Oma. None of them had known Sha're did ascend, too. Well, Miss Glowy Desalla sure was busy helping in the neighborhood. Sha're had said Daniel was carrying knowledge. So did that mean he had all his memories and was just suppressing them? Maybe inside his head it was all there and he had crawled so far into a corner of his mind that his connection to the world outside his body fragile and nearly non-existent. Unless he felt forced to interact with the outside world, like today.
Like... autism? It had happened before. Well, not like this. But Daniel always retreated into himself when he had problems or struggled to work out a bad mission. He needed to be alone for some time. Until he was ready to reach out for Jack.
It had always been him Danny had reached out to for some reason. They used to be best friends and their foundation had been strong and reached way back to the day Daniel had opened the gate. Jack hadn't always done a good job valuing this friendship, though, and sometimes when Daniel had reached out for him he had pushed him away.
He couldn't count the occasions when he had wanted to be there and show his affection, but was rude and sarcastic or turned away instead so he wouldn't see the hurt in those blue eyes. Hell, it hadn't always been easy. He had to see the bigger picture, had to act as a leader and not only as a best friend. He had to keep some distance, needed to stop treating Daniel more favorably which he had done all too often anyway. How could he not? Daniel had been the overly good guy, passionate and a demanding stubborn SOB. Jack had to juggle his affection to the "kid" and doing his job right. So he had cut him down from time to time to get the job done. Sometimes he had been right, sometimes Daniel had been right and they had juggled that, too. They had both learned from each other and basically that was a good thing.
They had always worked it out one way or the other and ended up at each other’s places with dinner and the comfortable knowledge that whatever may come between them they could handle it, could move on and find their way back to being friends.
Yet, now it felt like as a friend Jack had screwed up all too often.
Machello's inventions... Jack had left him in a padded white cell, believing Daniel had gone nuts.... Reese... Daniel crying on the floor of the gate room and Jack had left him there... any god damn planet Daniel had wanted to play with the rocks and Jack had just snapped at him to stop it and get his gear together... Daniel's ramblings about god knew what and Jack had zoned him out, rolled his eyes or shut him up with a few barked words.... like one would shut up a child that was on a roll and wouldn't stop talking while the parent was making an important phone call... Not now... stop it... shut up... dammit, Daniel, I've heard this how many times?... could you please get to the point... bottom line this for me, will ya.... eh, Danny boy, did you write a book about this?.... do you ever take a breath, Daniel?... Why don't you just hold your breath, Daniel. You haven't done that for a while...
O'Neill gulped down some of the water and poured out the rest over his head and neck. It was too damn hot to build a paddock, or chase a kid through the woods. Or dwell on guilt trips.
If Jack could only figure out what had happened when Daniel hadn't come back that last time .... how Daniel had died and why he'd been sent back almost two years later – as a child. Maybe Oma had made a mistake when she gave him back his body? But more so he needed to understand why Daniel was so withdrawn and why he wouldn't speak. Maybe he couldn't speak after all... maybe the Ancients did punish him again for breaking rules after another ascension? The thought sickened Jack. Daniel used to be a verbal guy. Words were his business, his way of expressing himself. Daniel without words was... unthinkable. What a cruel and cold hearted punishment this would be. Taking away his memories had been harsh. Taking away his voice was pure torture.
Jack started moving along the pond, fighting down the bubbling panic. He should have established some rules... should have talked about the no-wandering-in-the-woods-alone issue... not that he was sure Daniel would have followed his lead. He'd never done that very well. If he got lost somewhere in the forest... fell down into a ravine...
Well, once he found him Jack would make his point about what was acceptable behavior and what wasn't. Running away like that definitely wasn't tolerable and even Daniel had to understand that.
"Daniel!" Damn, Jack wasn't sure if yelling his name like that wouldn't chase him away even further. "Daniel, come out, please! It's okay, you hear me? Whatever it is, we'll fix it! Come on out, kid!"
He stopped and spun around to look at the trees and the water, expecting to see him emerging from somewhere. When he let his eyes wander over the lake, he suddenly saw a black moving spot between the high reed of the sandy cove.
"Daniel," he called out again and the moving spot froze and ducked deeper into the reed.
Frowning, Jack started to jog until he reached the cove. Slowing, he walked down the shore and passed his boat. There was Daniel, kneeling on the ground, frantically shoving grass and sand aside with both hands.
"What in netu are you doing there?" Jack blurted out before he could hold back, relief and anger getting the better of him. "I've been searching for you! Could you at least give me a clue where you're going?! I asked you to bring out some water!"
The boy jerked up and stared at him with huge glistening eyes. His face red and wet with tears.
Oh crap. "Daniel? Daniel, I'm so... "
When Jack took a step forward, the boy spun around and threw himself into the water. He swam as fast as he could towards the pier and tried to pull himself up there. Jack watched him struggle for a moment. Apparently the kid wasn't strong enough to pull himself up with those skinny arms. He seemed to have gained weight, but he was still too thin and aside from that he seemed to be in panic by now.
He was kicking his legs to stay at the surface and tried to reach the planks again. Then he swallowed water, started to splutter and ...
Jack was running.
Time stood still and everything froze. He heard himself call for Daniel to hang on, his voice slow and unreal in his own ears as he stormed to the pier, heart hammering in his chest and blood rushing in his ears.
Then he was there and on his knees, reaching down, grabbing an arm or leg. He pulled until he had the kid out of the water and onto the pier. For a moment they were just lying there in a heap. Daniel started coughing and spitting out water all over Jack.
Jack reached out and pulled him close. For the first time he held Daniel in his arms, felt the racing heartbeat against his own chest. Realized how skinny this child really was, how fragile...
Then Daniel started to fight. He pulled and jerked and a small fist punched Jack's chest, fingernails scratched his arms. Wide eyes stared at him in total terror.
Jack let go of him as if he had burnt himself.
Daniel scrambled to his feet and fled.
She saw the young two legged run from the lake, his mane flying around his head and his skinny long legs working hard to get away from the man who had just pulled him out of the water.
The very young sometimes didn't know when their elder meant only their best. She guessed it was no different with the two legged. But this child was hurting deeply. She had sensed it when he had touched her and she had seen it in those beautiful sad eyes that reminded her of the sky so much. Right then and there she had known she must not fear the young one. That he would never harm her in any way.
He didn't trust and he didn't know if things around him were going to stay safe. There was a fear so deep she almost was scared by it, too. Not by the child, but the fear and darkness inside him. But his touch was gentle and so soft. She had never been touched by a two legged foal like this. His hands were as tender as the man's hands. They must be of one family. Yet, the child ran away from him.
She let out a snicker as he passed her. He was weak and the fight with the water and the man had drawn the strength from him. A few steps away from her he stopped, breath hitching and tears streaming down his face. She knew the two legged cried. It was something she sometimes envied. She wasn't able to cry like that. It seemed like the tears would wash out all sorrow and pain from the two legged souls. She had seen them cry and smile afterward.
He slumped down on the grass and curled up, too exhausted to run away, but not willing to let the man near him.
She took a step forward, ignoring the ache in her hoof. Another step and she could reach his back with her mouth. She nibbled his shirt and sent warm breath over his trembling wet body. If this was her foal she would probably lick his fur or nibble his mane. But it was up to the man to do that. It was also his duty to keep him safe from harm and make sure he wouldn't flee like this again. Only little ones and fools didn't know there was always danger in the water and that if they needed to flee they should always try to reach safe ground. This young also had to learn not to run away from his family as there was no need to do so.... She wondered if the man would punish or exile him from the herd like the adults of her kind would do with a naughty immature horse. They would always let him back in after a while, though. Young ones had to learn so much and sometimes they needed to be corrected.
The man had only wanted to help his young. But the child wasn't responding well. Maybe before this foal needed correction it first needed to learn to trust its family.
The man came closer now. He stood a few feet away from them and watched. He was trying to do what was right. She snickered again. He had to come and teach and comfort this child of his. He had to come and make this young see that it would be safe with his family.
Jack let himself slump on the warm grass next to Daniel and buried his face in his hands.
Why won't you let me help, he thought, even though he began to think he knew part of the answer. Why should he? I let him go and die out there. Didn't go after him, wasn't there with him... It was a risk he'd been willing to take... He'd only done his job and I did mine. But I should have known... I should have gone looking for him... trying... anything... instead of shooing Carter off with some phrases... should have gotten my ass into gear and search the whole damn galaxy for him... try anything... we used to be a team, for crying out loud. We used to be the best. All of us, close as a family. And I let it go for what? A promotion? A parking space? I thought I could do more as the head of the SGC, keep in touch with Washington, try to keep the balance between the SGC and the "real world"
I should have stayed with what I did best. Leading SG-1.
Staying with Daniel.
Instead he'd pushed him away. Again. Let him sacrifice himself. Again.
But if that was the reason why this reincarnation of Daniel wouldn't open up to him, why did he come with him in the first place? Why had he turned to Jack nevertheless...
He'd always thought I'm some fucking knight in shiny armor to come and rescue him. Or that we would make this world - this universe - a better place together. Maybe we even did for some folks out there. But for us I screwed it up. You should have learned that by now, Danny-boy. That I'm not the man you want me to be. I'm not one to look up to.
Come to think about it, this little Daniel seemed to be eager and scared of being too close to O'Neill at the same time. He wanted to sleep in the same room, wear his clothes and listen to his voice... but he seemed to need space and be alone during the day. And he didn't let Jack come near enough to touch him.
Yet, he seemed to want to be near him, too. It was like he wanted Jack to be there and take care, but was too scared to give in to it.
O'Neill rubbed his hand over his burning eyes and looked at the ball that was Daniel.
Or some version of Daniel.
Small, skinny, hurting.
"Hey, kid," Jack croaked, not sure what he was going to say. But he couldn't just sit here and ride the guilt trip while Danny was playing hedgehog. "I'm sorry. Look, I know you’ve probably been mad at me for a long time. Maybe you don't even really know yourself. But you should. I've been a crappy friend at times. And I left you behind. Which is something I vowed never to do. Well, okay, I didn't exactly leave you behind. More like I stayed behind and let ya go. All of you. When Carter and T came back and told me you were.... gone.... I didn't believe them. But I didn't go after you either.... I just... They said you were dead, Danny. I refused to listen to Carter. But did I come to the rescue? No. You ask me why? I can't give you an answer. Every single word I'd say would be a lame cowardly excuse. Maybe I didn't want to find out you're really dead this time. Maybe I thought if I'd wait you'd come back from the glowy club again. I just assumed you went there.... 'cause you couldn't die. Not you, Daniel."
He watched the mare rubbing her nose over Daniel's back and giving a low snicker. Then she came over to him and tousled his gray hair with her soft lips and blew warm breath into it. Despite the anguish he felt, Jack had to smile. "Thanks, ma'am. You know that most of this gray hair is his fault?" He reached up and fondled her huge head with one hand, then looked at Daniel again.
"I had to pull you out of the water, Danny. You would've drowned. I know you don't want to be touched. But I had to. Whatever it is that is haunting you... for whatever reason you're still afraid of me... I won't force you to do anything you're not comfortable with. But you have to know there are situations when I have to act. I won't leave you again. And I won't let you go again either. If that means I have to touch you to save you, so be it."
Daniel's shoulders started trembling as silent sobs were shaking his body. He was crying again. Jack had noticed the tears before. He had no idea why the kid had been crying when he'd found him at the cove, but tears were good. Tears were a form of communication, a physical reaction, a way to let go of things.
"Danny," he whispered, not daring to speak loudly. "You're crying. Crying's good. Real good. Can you look at me, Danny? I know you can. Come on, kid. I have to tell ya something. And I'd rather do it face to face."
Daniel shook his head no, curling up even more. Jack closed his eyes for a moment.
"Right. I'm sorry... I don't know what's going on in your head. But I'm here. Always here, okay? I'm not leaving and neither are you. We have to find a way to work this out because I won't lose you again. Sha're came after you through the gate to tell them to get me, Daniel. It has to mean something. She knew I'd come. Janet showed up, too. Did you know she's all glowy, too? She's concerned. Said I had to get you outta there. See, I've talked more in these last few weeks than I would normally in a year. And I'm really bad at this talking stuff. Looks like words are all I've left to get through to you though, and I'm not even sure how much of what I say actually reaches you..."
Jack sat there and thought they made a nice picture. A man, a kid and a horse next to a little lake in the Minnesota sun, surrounded by woods and the cabin. The horse was dozing again, standing more on three legs than on four.
Daniel dried in the afternoon heat.
After a while Jack just sprawled out next to the kid, staring up at the almost white sky. He had no idea what to do. All he knew was that he couldn't leave the kid alone out here now.
He must have fallen asleep, because he woke when something was brushing over his face. He was awake immediately, but stayed perfectly still, his eyes closed as small hands were patting his cheeks and hair. He would have stopped breathing if necessary so he wouldn't disturb Daniel's exploration. Jack could smell the lake water on Daniel, could hear the kid's fast breathing. His hair was brushed away a few times and then trembling fingers wandered over the outlines of Jack's face.
Then the hands were gone.
Jack slowly opened his eyes and blinked into the evening sun. He turned his head. Daniel was sitting a few feet away, hugging his knees to himself. But he was looking at Jack, his eyes red rimmed from crying, oversized black t-shirt showing traces of snot.
"Hey," Jack whispered.
Daniel nervously started chewing his lower lip. That was new. Yet, it wasn't, because it had been something big Daniel had always done. That, and rubbing his thumb with his second finger.
Jack sat up and mirrored Daniel's position minus the self hugging. He stretched out his legs and placed his hands on his thighs. "You wanna explain why you ran away?" he asked gently.
Daniel sat there a moment longer, his bottom lip firmly between his teeth, his head tilted a little sideways. Then he got up and waved Jack to follow. Without looking back he stalked towards the cabin and Jack followed suit.
Once inside, the kid walked straight to Charlie's room and opened the closet. He gazed for a moment at Charlie’s things in there and then reached into it and pulled out a box. In it were the crayons and some paper Jack had taken with them from the SGC when they'd left. He'd also taken the books and some of the stuffed toys. So far Daniel had never wanted any of the stuff since he was mostly just sitting somewhere, doing nothing.
Now the kid pulled a piece of paper out of the box and showed it to Jack, then pointed at the crayons.
"You want to draw a picture," Jack guessed, amazed.
Head shaking. No. Daniel pointed at Jack, at the crayons and then at the paper. Then he folded the paper and put it into the pocket of his shorts. Again he waved at Jack to follow as he ran out again.
When they stood on the pier, Daniel gestured at the horse, then over towards the cove. Then he pulled out the paper piece and placed it on the wooden planks. He covered his eyes, shook his head, then went down on his knees and hands and ...
"You were searching... You took the picture with you when you saw the horse," Jack guessed. "You... I know. You're carrying it around all the time.... wait..." He remembered what happened this morning and it dawned to him. "You swam over to the cove, right? You lost the picture... it got wet... and you lost it? That right?"
Frantic nods were the answer.
"And you remembered it when I told you to change and get dry clothes on. Then you left to search for it," O'Neill continued, finally piecing it together.
Daniel picked up the paper and balled it together. He hung his head and nodded again.
Jack let out the breath he had been holding without realizing it. "Daniel," he said. "Look at me."
To his surprise the kid's head came up slowly. Again there were tears glistening in his eyes.
"I understand. I know that picture meant a lot to you. And when I came down there and snapped at you I scared you. I'm sorry for that, okay?"
A tiny nod.
"But, Daniel... do you know why I snapped?" Jack decided to make this point while Danny seemed to be ready to communicate. He might snap shut like a shell any minute.
He shrugged his shoulders and blushed, staring at his bare sandy feet again.
"Look at me," Jack repeated patiently. He waited until Daniel's eyes were locked with his again. The kid blushed even more and once again bit on his bottom lip.
"I think you know very well, why,” Jack guessed from reading the kid's body language. “I thought you ran into the woods and got lost. I was looking for you and couldn't find you in the house or at the pier. Couldn't see you anywhere. I didn't mean to scare you and you have to believe me that you never have to run from me, kid. I'm not going to hurt ya, no matter what. But you have to tell me where you're going, or show me at least. You can't wander off into the woods. It's dangerous."
Daniel stood very still and just looked at him, his eyes like saucers. Then his arms were creeping around his body. But with a lot of willpower – or so it seemed to Jack – he stopped himself and instead of hugging himself, he dropped them to his sides again.
More progress. Good.
While he had the kid's full attention, Jack continued, “Daniel? Can we agree on a deal here? You can stay anywhere you like around the cabin. But you're not walking into the woods. And you show me when you want to take a walk along the lake, so I know where you are, okay?”
A slow up and down of the head was the answer.
Jack smiled, feeling a rock falling from his chest. He wasn't sure if Daniel would remember this rule if something really intriguing crossed his way. But it was a start and the crisis seemed to be over for now.
"Okay, grasshopper. Why don't we go inside and see if we can draw a new picture for ya?"
The kid's eyes grew big. This time the nod came enthusiastically and off he dashed into the house.
Jack checked on the horse and went to change her bucket of water before he followed his kid inside.
When he entered, Daniel had already placed the crayons and a new sheet of paper on the coffee table. He sat on the couch, his young face very serious, and allowed Jack to sit next to him.
Jack grabbed a brown crayon and started to draw the cabin. He even managed to do windows and a door this time. Daniel watched this for a moment and then tentatively reached out for a blue crayon.
"You wanna color the sky? Great.... here ya go." Jack encouraged him.
The first few attempts of coloring looked a little insecure. But after a few more strokes of crayon Daniel seemed to get more confident. He colored the sky blue and added a yellow sun. When Daniel was done, Jack worked on the grass and a clumsy excuse of a lake.
"Hey this one's much better than the first one," he pointed out, grinning as he started to draw a stick figure next to the cabin. He wrote his name under it like he had done on the first one.
"Now it's your turn. Where are you? And our four footed friend out there?"
Daniel took a black crayon and carefully drew another stick figure next to Jack. Then he drew the horse. He paused again and looked at their piece of art. Suddenly he drew a box around himself. He stopped again, his teeth working on his lip.
Then he pulled the paper over to him and started working. Jack sat there stunned as he saw what the boy did with their colorful little picture.
"Daniel..." he began, but didn't say anything else when he suddenly realized what exactly Daniel was doing.
He was drawing a net of little black outlined patterns all over the picture. At first sight they looked like little puzzle pieces. After a second look... Jack felt a shudder running down his spine and the hairs on his neck were rising. With a sickening, horrible, fascination he watched Daniel covering the whole paper with the tiny little things until the sun, the grass, cabin and lake, even Jack and the horse were behind a web of … pieces. Only the smaller stick figure in its box was clearly visible now. Daniel put away the black crayon and took a red one.
He wrote something underneath his stick figure.
Then he handed the picture to Jack who took it with trembling hands. "No. No you're not alone, Daniel. I just told you. I won't let you go," he whispered. "God, what happened to you? Replicators... Did the bugs beam you off the ship? Is that what happened? Did they hurt you?“ He closed his eyes briefly. “Of course they did. What else would they do. Aw, Daniel...”
When the kid didn't respond, Jack took a new piece of paper and shoved it towards the kid.
"Show me," he whispered.
For a moment Jack feared he had lost him again. Daniel's eyes became vacant and he didn't react. Then he slowly reached out for one of the crayons again.
Daniel drew replicator pieces again, all around the edges of the paper. In the middle he drew another stick figure. With glasses. And a second one. He stared at them, then took the yellow crayon and added a mop of blond hair to the other figure.
A cold, cold hand clutched around Jack O'Neill's heart.
The blond figure's arm rested at the head of the stick figure with glasses, like she was caressing him... but Jack knew... a flashback of another replicator being reaching into his head with its hand... reading his mind... knowing his grief and secrets... hurting him...
Daniel shoved the picture at him and grabbed the next paper.
He drew both figures again in the middle of the sheet. Then he started coloring a Stargate, four figures - SG-1 - a woman with dark hair - Sha're.... a pyramid... something that looked like a head in a cloud - Oma deSalla...
Jack knew this was important. And he was so close to getting it. He stared at the three pictures in front of him.
Daniel had stopped drawing and looked at him questioningly.
"Carter," Jack mumbled. "She was... repli Carter... probing your mind... stuck her arm into your head, right?"
"She was searching for something? There's Oma... Repli Carter was searching for Ancient knowledge? Technology? The weapon on Dakara? The one we used to destroy those freaking bugs?"
"Okay, okay... what's with this one?" Jack pointed at the cabin pic covered with replicator pieces.
Daniel took the red crayon again and wrote a word over the whole drawing.
"Yes. They are real. But they can't hurt you anymore. Because we killed them," Jack hissed, feeling a cold rage surging through himself. "We killed them all. With that weapon Teal'c and Bra'tac found on Dakara. They'll never hurt you or anybody else ever again."
Daniel took the second picture with himself and repli Carter who was sticking her hand into his head. As he worked on it again, she got a blade into her other hand. A knife... no... it was a blade that came right out of her other arm....
The blade touched the Daniel figure.
Then there was red attached to the blade.
Lots of red.
Jack groaned. He thought he was going to throw up. Oh. God.
Daniel took the last empty piece of paper and quietly started coloring again.
The house, the lake...
Jack watched, amazed at how his hands became more and more steady and how the house looked much better than the one Jack had drawn. Yes, Daniel had always been good at drawing. It still looked like a child's picture. But there was progress. As if he remembered how to draw while he was doing it.
The sun, the sky, the grass...
And all the time O'Neill tried to wrap his brain around those other pictures. Repli Carter had killed Daniel. Had probed his mind, abused him in the most horrible way - and then killed him off.
Well, she was no more. "It" was no more. Because no way would Jack think of this monster as a "she". It was dead. So he didn't have to dwell on that one. He needed to get a grip to be calm for Daniel.
Daniel, who was now finishing the new picture with the two stick figures and the horse. He hesitantly wrote Jack's name underneath the taller figure and his own name under the smaller one.
They were holding hands on the picture.
Daniel picked up the red crayon again, His hand was trembling as he wrote above their heads, in unsteady huge letters.
O'Neill stared at all the pictures lying in front of him in a row now.
Suddenly the pieces fell together and the urge to throw up was getting stronger again.
All the time since Daniel had come through the gate.... maybe before, wherever he had been before and however he'd come back from the death... all this time...
"God yes, Daniel. Yes. It's real. I'm real. This isn't some replicator illusion. It's not a trap. You’ve got to believe me. Trust me. You came back... somehow... again.... No no, don't do that, kid. Stay with me, okay? Look at me... yeah, that's good. It's me. It's really me. The SGC, the infirmary, this... it's all real, Danny."
What could he do or say to make him believe. Jack knew Daniel wanted to. He was trying to believe, but parts of him were too scared to allow the guards to go down. He was hiding. Not from Jack. Not from the world. Daniel’s mind insisted he was still on the replicator ship. That "it" was still sticking its hand into his head and messing with his brain.
Jack had heard about it from Carter after they'd found her on that Asgard planet. How Fifth had made her believe she was on a farm, living with Pete. How real everything had appeared to her. He had no way to really prove to Daniel that this was the real world and not only in his head.
"Tell me what to do, Daniel. How to make you believe you're safe?"
Daniel swallowed. His eyes were boring into Jack's now and he was worrying with his finger on his thumb. He was coming back, little by little. And Jack held his breath for a moment, struggling with words. He didn't want to lose him again.
"You touched me. Outside when I slept... wait... it's okay.... don't flinch. I was waking up and I felt it. Touch me again. I won't touch you back, Danny. But you could touch... " Jack was stabbing in the dark here. He knew that in Carter’s replica world she had been able to touch Pete, too. She had it in her report. He'd even made her pancakes and she ate them.
For crying out loud. How could he ever make Daniel trust him?
"Do you believe the horse is real, Danny?"
A nod. Then a head shake. Then another nod.
"You aren't sure. But you tried to help her, right? It's what you do. Only you, Daniel. You're the only one who would come out to help if it's needed, no matter what's at stake." Jack held his breath again and paused until he was sure the kid was focusing on him. On his eyes. "Look at me," he repeated softly. "What do you see?"
He could hear Daniel's breath quickening, could see the fear in his eyes. But he held his gaze. "You know I'm not a fake, kid. You want to come out. You carried that picture around with you like an anchor. You came with me."
A trembling hand reached out and Jack sat completely still as a fingertip brushed over his cheekbone, then jerked away. Daniel scooted back on the couch until he was sitting at the other end of it.
"It's all right. You know. Deep down inside you know, Daniel."
Daniel slapped his hands over his face and shook his head as he began to rock back and forth. O'Neill bit his lip to keep his frustration under control. They had been so close. Forcing himself to stay calm, he offered, "Look, it's okay. You take your time. We have to build that paddock outside. How about you come with me and watch me work? She's still hurting and won't go away for a while. But once the pain eases she might want to leave and I can't let her. Not yet."
It seemed to take an eternity for the kid to make a decision. Jack waited and watched him struggle through his own little world of lonesomeness and fears, his heart wrenching because he couldn't help.
Finally Daniel sat up straight and nodded. Before they went outside he pointed at his t-shirt and grimaced. Jack nodded. "Yeah. You better change that, huh?"
When Daniel came back he was wearing another one of Jack's shirts. And jeans that were actually his own size.
She was captured again.
There were new fences keeping her from leaving. And a stable. She was able to enter and leave the stable freely. But she could not wander into the woods as she was used to.
Yet, she didn't feel betrayed. The man changed the wet thing around her hoof and the pain was slowly going away. He brought her food and fresh water from the lake in big buckets.
The child often sat on the grass under the large oak tree that gave her shadow in the midday heat. She rather stayed outside than in the stable. Outside she could at least smell and eat the grass, see the sky and hear the birds.
The sun had set three times since the man had lured her into this place and had closed the fences. He had looked sad and told her he was sorry, but she had to stay for a while.
She had snickered and blew into his ear because she knew he liked that. It made him smile and he had rubbed her neck which was something she liked. She knew he would let her go when it was time.
He had taught her to trust again.
The young one came over now and put his arms around her, laid his little face at the side of her neck and rubbed his cheek on her fur. She nibbled his hair and nudged his shoulder tenderly. He was still quiet and different. But the smell of fear wasn't as strong anymore as it had been in the beginning.
The man still talked to him a lot. Sometimes his voice was soft and gentle and sometimes gruff and a little impatient. She had watched them as they had built the fences, the child holding the wood or giving the man tools. Later, the boy had lain' down in the grass and slept while the man sat next to him to watch over him like a good parent would.
With her kind only the mares took care of the foals. It was different. But it didn't matter. This boy needed the man more than anything else. The man needed him, too. He was sad that the foal wouldn't let him touch and hold it. But she knew the boy filled an empty place in the man's heart already.
Things would change. He would teach the young one to trust again, too.
The man came and stood at the fence, watching her and his boy standing together. Slowly he ducked under the fence and crossed the distance between them.
"Hey, beauty," Jack mumbled and held a piece of hard bread out to her. She took it as carefully as always and started munching on it.
Daniel, who had actually hugged her, looked over at him. There was a tiny smile. Not visible on his face, but twinkling in his eyes.
Jack rubbed the mare's skull with the palm of his hand. "She gets spoiled with all this attention," he mused with a grin as he listened to her crunching the bread between her teeth. He had been surprised how easily she attached to her current situation. He had expected her to be angry, trying to get out of the paddock or turning against him and attack. But she coped well, took the food, walked around a little and stood under the tree. She didn't use the shed Jack had cleaned out for her, though. It was now an open stable.
The abscess was healing. But she was still lame and he would have to change the bandage for a few more days.
For the last three days Daniel had been communicative almost the whole time. He was still jumpy and sat at the pier for long periods of time. But when Jack called out for him and wanted him to help with something, or just asked him how he was doing, he always got a nod, a blink. And Daniel actually came and did what Jack asked him to do.
This morning when Jack had come out of the bathroom, Daniel had served toast with jelly and coffee. He had placed everything on a tray and shyly gestured at Jack to carry it outside since they were eating on the porch or at the pier most of the time.
The hard assed US Air Force general had stood in the living room and blinked away tears.
Tonight they had pasta with tomato sauce. Jack cooked while Daniel was with the horse and brought her food. The water bucket was too heavy for him to carry. But the smaller bucket filled with the apples and carrots Jack had gotten from Harry's this week he could handle.
When he strode in and reached out for the plates on the counter, Jack said, "Wash your hands before dinner, Danny."
Daniel rolled his eyes, but strolled into the bathroom. As soon as he was gone, a smile appeared on O'Neill’s face. Aside from tears they had... lip gnawing, thumb rubbing, grimacing, glaring, eyes rolling... pouting. Yep. Daniel had definitely pouted a few hours ago when Jack had told him he couldn’t go swimming all alone until he had gained some more strength. And yep, he knew Daniel could swim, but no way was he doing it without Jack at least watching him from the pier. Not after what had happened recently.
Definitely a pout there and a frown when Jack had added that he would love to go swimming with Daniel, but not right now because they had chores to do first and that they could go after dinner.
He knew the new expressions of body language were still fragile, but it was a start.
Jack wished his kid would smile.
Or allow hugs.
After they had done dishes Daniel pointed out to the lake again and made a few swimming motions. Jack tried to remember where he had his trunks and finally shrugged and decided to wear his boxers just like Daniel would. So they went to the cove and into the water. It was warm from the day’s heat. The evening sun sent her light across the lake and made the water lilies and the reed appear golden. Daniel lay on his back and let himself drift. His long hair surrounded his head like a blanket on the water.
Jack swam alongside him, watching the rare expression of peace on the young face. He looked almost bronze in the sunlight. Not too much was left from the pale dirty uncombed figure in the old robes. At least not on the outside. Jack could still see his ribs and knew he had to gain a lot more weight to look like a healthy eleven year old. But they were on the way.
When they reached the field of water lilies, Daniel swam around them and carefully touched one of the white blooms. Jack remembered how much Charlie had loved the lilies when they were in bloom. One day his son had gone to pick one for his mom. He had wanted to surprise her and had taken his little paddle boat early in the morning without telling anybody. The only thing that saved his little bottom from getting smacked was that he'd put on his life vest and finally realized that doing this all alone was probably a bad idea as he'd lost his paddle while trying to get into the boat from the pier. Charlie had been a bright kid and once he'd thought it through he had gotten his dad and, after a stern lecture about not going into the water on his own, they had taken the big boat. Jack had rowed them out to pick a lily for Sara. They'd put it into a bowl of water and placed it on the breakfast table.
Daniel didn't want to pick a lily. He just swam among them, reminding Jack of some fairy tale elf.
Later when they had showered, Jack sat on the porch with a beer, thinking that life was good right now, when Daniel came out and placed a book in his lap.
"You want me to read to you?" Jack asked, raising his left eyebrow. Since they had left the SGC, the books had been in Charlie's closet and Daniel had never made an attempt to get them out again. It was a childrens book about Alexander the Great, his childhood and how he grew up to be the man who had conquered so many countries. There was a large part about Alexander in Egypt, according to the table of contents.
Daniel nodded and sat down to Jack's feet, looking out at the lake. It was getting dark now and Jack had lit the oil lamp on the small table next to his chair. Mosquitoes were humming around the light.
O'Neill put his beer down and cleared his throat before he started to read. Alexander the Great was an intriguing personality and even though Jack would deny this to his last breath to his friend Daniel Jackson, he knew quite a lot about the history and myth around that man. And he enjoyed reading this book to Danny, the boy.
As he read on, he suddenly felt a weight settling against his legs and it took a lot of willpower not to stop reading and gaze down at the small back and head propped up comfortable against Jack's shins.
Five days later they removed the bandage from the mare's leg and opened the fences for her to leave. She took her time, though. And when she finally stepped out, she didn't run into the woods, but stayed behind the house, peacefully grazing on the clearing for another hour before she vanished into the forest.
When Jack saw the sad expression on Daniel's face later, he said, "She'll be back, kid. Just like you she's a free spirit. She doesn't like to be held captured." Daniel leaned his head against Jack's side and closed his eyes for a moment. Very carefully O'Neill put his arm around the small shoulders. Like this they stood and watched the sun go down on their lake.
Yep. Life was good.
She had wandered to all her favorite places. The wide meadow full of delicious clover, the shadowy spot under the large willows, the little spring deep in the underbrush, the hills where she could rest overlook the endless trees and watch the sun go down. She wandered the paths and trails she had gotten used to since she had escaped the two legged from the farm somewhere on the other side of the large woods. She had chased butterflies like a foal, happy to be free of pain. She had stood in the gurgling spring, drank the fresh water and watched the fish swim around her legs.
She was free again.
Her heart, though, was with the man and his child and she came back to look for them not so long after she had left.
She saw them sitting in the red wooden thing that had been lying at the cove. Now she recognized it as the man's boat. They held ropes into the water and sometimes a fish would dangle on its end when they pulled it up.
She watched them swim together or sit at the pier as they ate something. Sometimes the boy would lean against the man and the man would rub his large hand through the long mane of his foal.
One time as she had rounded the house to see if there would be a treat for her or if one of them had time to rub her back or untangle her mane, she had found them sitting in the grass, a wooden board between them. She had never seen such a thing before. Black and white figures stood on each side of the checkered board. The figures looked like some of the horse treats the man would give her from time to time. Each of them would pull one of the figures across the board and place it somewhere else. She had watched this for a while and wondered if the small pieces were edible. When she had stepped closer to find out what they were, the tiny things had fallen from the board and the man had whined and pulled a funny face and waved her away. The young one had smiled though and together they had set up the figures again to start over.
She decided it was a two legged thing and lost interest in it.
This morning she didn't go to the cabin. She was on her clover meadow, enjoying the fresh juicy grass. The sun didn't break through the high roof of leaves that much. So the meadow wasn't as dry as the grass around the little house. She loved the smell of the clover too.
Suddenly she froze as she heard something. She raised her head and let her ears play. Her nostrils took in every scent around her and her flanks started to tremble. Something was here. She was ready to run and hide between the trees.
But when a small figure stepped out from the trees on the other side of the meadow she relaxed and snickered a greeting.
The young boy strolled over the meadow and then stood a few feet away. He looked puzzled and nervously brushed his mane out of his face. He looked around himself as if he feared he might have been followed. She stopped grazing and looked in the direction he had come from.
The man wasn't here.
She trudged over and nudged the boy with her nose and he started caressing her head. The puzzled expression on his face deepened and suddenly there were tears spilling from his eyes and he buried his face into her neck. The mare stood still as long as the child needed to cry and hold on to her. She smelled fear, but a different kind this time, not the total darkness and emptiness either.
The foal had wandered off from his herd. Now he was lost.
Cursing loudly for the umpteenth time, O'Neill shouldered his barrel and slammed the cabin door shut. He attached a piece of paper to the wooden door. It was a note for Daniel that said he should stay right here until Jack would be back.
Just in case the kid would come home while Jack was out searching for him.
As he walked the path leading into the forest, he called Daniel's name over and over again, holding his breath in between and waiting for an answer. An answer he knew would never come.
So how the hell should Jack find him if he didn't talk?
He broke through the bushes and trees, walking in circles, calling, looking under tree trunks, into dips, he even searched the tree tops to see if Daniel had climbed one.
The forest was still and even the animals seemed to duck away from the scared and angry man who was breaking through the underbrush. Well, he was making enough noise to wake up a dead Goa'uld. He stopped every once in a while to listen, to change directions, to look at traces of where Daniel might have gone. A broken branch here, footsteps on the dry sandy path there....
He found them, and managed to follow them. The path turned into a meadow after a while and Jack crossed over a small creek. He crouched down, using his sharp eyes and Special Ops skills to find even the tiniest footsteps in the short grass. His mind was already dealing with the consequences of this...
Charlie he would have spanked after he'd made sure the kid was alright.
Adult Daniel he would have yelled at and maybe given him a double night watch. Or maybe not. But yelled he would have. Loudly.
He could do neither with this Daniel.
He had to calm down and think of something else.
First he had to find him. Oh god, don't let him be gone too far. Don't let him be too scared. We were so making progress. Let me find him before it gets dark...
A few birds, startled by the loud voice, flew out of the grass and high into the trees.
Jack stood again, listening. Was that a crackling branch? A shadow between the trees?
He had no idea what had made Daniel walk into the woods. One minute the kid had been busy picking wild strawberries somewhere near the cabin... Jack had told him to be back for lunch... it was a spot they both knew and Jack could see Daniel when he walked a little alongside the lake.
Lunchtime had come and Daniel hadn't.
Not really worried at that point he had finished making sandwiches. Then he'd decided to go and look for the kid. Daniel forgot about time here and there. It wasn't anything new and it seemed to be no matter whether he was big or little.
There had been no Daniel at the strawberries. The basket had been there half full with the delicious fruits.
So Jack had searched all of Danny's favorite places.
Now he was near panicking and torn between worry and anger.
Where was he?
Jack walked through a field of bunchberries that were ripe now. They grew near the ground and lots of animals loved the red berries. There were pines all around him and the light was dim since the sun didn't reach much through the tangled branches. Spots of sunlight were dancing over the ground and it would have been a beautiful sight for someone who wasn't out here to search for a missing kid.
"Daniel! Daniel, dammit, answer me! I know you can! Where are you?! Daniel!"
Great. Just the right words. NOT. He cursed again and slapped at a mosquito on his neck. If it was getting dark before he'd found the kid he'd have to call the sheriff and maybe a some guys from town as a search party.
Jack stepped into the trees and brushed a cobweb out of his face, ignoring the sweat running down his neck and in the collar of his shirt. Then he froze again.
There were noises. Something or someone was breaking through the woods. Not fast, but steady. And coming closer.
"Daniel? Daniel, that you?"
That was when he saw them. Well, I'll be damned, he thought, gaping at the horse and his missing kid, coming through the pine trees together.
When she recognized him, she let out a snicker and a snuff, shaking her head a little to get rid of a cloud of mosquitoes following her. Daniel had one hand in her mane. He looked like some wild jungle book kid. There were burs in his hair and his shirt was covered in dirt, as were his jeans. But he appeared to be uninjured and whole aside from a few scratches on his arms.
Jack had no idea who found whom and, frankly, he didn't care.
"Daniel, you all right?" he blurted out, putting his barrel on the ground behind him.
The youngster stopped and took a few steps back as if he wanted to hide behind the horse. But she turned and gently grabbed his oversized shirt with her teeth. She pulled him forward. let go of his shirt and nudged his back, sending him in Jack's direction.
Jack sat heavily down on a tree trunk and did the only thing he could think of as his heart fell back into normal pace and he knew life would go on normally for the two of them.
He opened his arms. "C'mere, kid."
Daniel took one tiny step, then another, his big eyes fixed on Jack's face, searching for something. Anger maybe. He hesitated.
And then he surged forward and slammed against Jack with surprising strength. Jack carefully put his arms around him and hugged his silent child, stroking through the matted long hair as small hands fisted his shirt and pulled at it and Daniel buried his face in the hollow of Jack's neck.
Jack held him, almost afraid to break him. He felt ribs pressing against his body, skinny arms wound around his neck, squishing him. How could such a fly weight be that strong?
"I've got ya, Danny. Sssh, easy... you're safe now. Calm down. Everything's all right. We'll go home, okay? You hurt anywhere? No? Good... easy, I'm here..."
When he felt the lanky body relax in his arms O'Neill started rubbing Daniel's back as a few tears of gratefulness dampened his child's mop of hair.
Daniel was safe.
And he was in oh-so-much trouble.
"A cat? You walked into the woods after a kitten?" Jack stared down at the picture Daniel had drawn for him.
A nod. Daniel showed with his hands how small the kitten had been. Looked like a little one. Now how did a kitten get out here? There weren't any other cabins close to his. The “town“ was at least an hour away by car.
"You sure it was a real kitten, not a baby lynx?"
Daniel frowned then shook his head and tapped on his picture. Yeah. That cat was not a lynx. It looked like a fairly normal kitten with gray and brown striped fur. White paws and a white spot on the breast.
"Sweet," Jack commented. "Maybe her mom's a stray. She might stick around here, too, and take care of it."
Daniel shook his head and grabbed a red crayon. He wrote: Lost! Search! Now!
"No," Jack said simply.
The kid glared at him and then wrote: YES! Then he stood, arms crossed over his chest.
"Nope. Not gonna happen. You go back to your dishes and then get ready for bed," Jack told him. In this house breaking the rules meant consequences, period. In this case doing dishes after every meal for two days and early bedtime tonight should be enough. It was the first time Jack was trying to rein Daniel in and he knew he’d better do it right from the start or they'd end up fighting all too often.
He had experience enough with adult Daniel to know where this might go.
Daniel slammed the crayon on the table and for a split moment Jack thought the kid would run through the open door. But instead he spun around and marched over to the kitchen where the dinner dishes were waiting for him. A moment later Jack heard Daniel throw plates into the dishwater and slam cupboard doors.
Daniel Jackson in pissy mode. Jack knew this was a good thing, despite the fact he'd rather have him laugh and be happy. He watched Danny rummaging around with the pots, a grim look on his face.
Daniel was interacting more and more. Aside from today he was getting content and from time to time there was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Sooner or later they were going to be okay. Daniel would get better and maybe one day they'd be able to live a fairly normal life.
Later that night Jack sat on his porch, the book of Alexander on his knees. Since Daniel refused to let him read this evening, he felt a little rejected. After he had cleaned up the kitchen the kid went straight to bed and crawled under the cover, pulling it over his head, when Jack had come in to say good night and asked him if he still wanted his story.
Jack stared at the starry sky and the dark lake. The mare walked by on her way to the cove and he sent her a silent thanks for bringing his boy back to him today.
He had put a bowl with milk out on the porch steps - just in case one gray brown striped kitten might find its way back here.
Rubbing a hand over his face, Jack tried not to be anxious about Daniel's hiding under his covers. It was a sullen reaction this time, nothing more. He'd be back to normal tomorrow. Charlie had been sulky from time to time when he got in trouble. It was natural. They all had their sulky moments and it would pass.
But Daniel's not Charlie, a nagging voice whispered at him. He's special. He's just getting better. Shouldn't you let it go? He'd run after the kitten because he thought it was lost. Like he had been lost. Aww, crap, Daniel couldn't run away like this, no matter what the reason. End of story.
He glared at the bowl at the stairs. He wasn't going to search the forest for a baby cat that might be safe and sound with its mom somewhere.
Groaning at his own thoughts he sipped his beer. He was going soft on his old days. Well, when it came to Daniel maybe he always had been. And didn't Daniel's deep concern over a stray kitten mean the boy was finally beginning to believe things around him were real and not a replicator made delusion?
When a lanky long haired kid suddenly emerged next to him, he almost dropped his beer. "Christ, Danny... nono, stay. It's okay. What's up? Changed your mind about the story?"
A curt nod.
Jack got the matches and turned on the oil lamp. He opened the book and waited for Danny to sit down at his feet as he always did since they had started reading again.
Not tonight though. Tonight Daniel gestured at Jack to follow him and take the lamp and book with them.
Curious at what the kid was up to he complied and went after him to the dock. They sat down on the still sun warm planks and Jack placed the lamp next to him. As he opened the book Daniel leaned against him and buried his face in Jack's shoulder. Both his hands clasped around Jack's arm and squeezed almost painfully.
“Daniel?“ Jack shook his arm a bit, but the kid hung on like a limpet. “You okay?“
“You want me to read or just sit here for a while?“
One hand let go of his arm and tapped the book.
“'kay.“ He dared to bend down a little and press a light kiss to the top of Daniel's head before he began to read.
When he was done with the chapter he closed the book and carefully put it behind him on the dock. Daniel was still hugging his arm and snuggling against his side. He let a moment pass, enjoying the physical closeness between them that was still so rare. When he spoke his voice was hoarse with emotions even though his words were flippant. "Now would be the time to send you back to bed, Danny." Danny didn't move an inch. O-kay. "On the other hand what's a few more minutes, huh? You're not off the hook, though. You keep on scaring me like that and I'll be completely white in a year from now."
There was a whisper coming from somewhere, so low O'Neill thought his ears were tricking him.
"Somebody just said something. You hear that," he asked, his own voice barely more than whisper.
"Oh you did, didn't ya?"
Jack tried to resist the urge to jump up, grab the kid and spin him around, yelling YES YES YES YES. Instead he took one deep breath and bent down to Daniel's head.
"Can you say it again? You know I'm old and my ears are shot... no wait, that's my knees. But my ears aren't used to hear you talking, sooo... what did ya say?"
"Sorry, Jack." Daniel breathed and buried his face deeper into O'Neill's shirt. "Not wanted to scare you." The words came fast and snatchy. Daniel's breath started to hitch as he squeezed Jack's arm into numbness.
"It's no big deal, Danny-boy. Next time you want to chase a kitten you just... tell me," Jack crooned. He couldn't jump into the lake and howl at the moon, could he? Or maybe tear all his clothes from his body and dance around a fire, thanking any god who would want to hear it? No. All he could do was sit there, with his Danny attached to his arm and stare out onto the dark water. The frogs started calling for their mates again. The crickets were singing and the moon was wandering above their heads.
The world was still the same as it had been five minutes ago.
But Daniel wasn't.
"Jack," a young voice said, a little more confident this time.
"Jack... really... you...” It wasn't a question and it was said in amazement as Daniel raised his head to finally look at him.
"Well, I'm not Mary Steemburger. Or Harry Maybourne, which would be worse than being Mary, ya know... So, yeah. I'm really me. Boring old cynic me."
A small hand patted Jack's chest and came to rest where his heart was hammering against his ribs. "I'm here..."
"Yes. You are.”
Daniel took O'Neill's large hand into his small one and placed it on his own chest. "You are here. Never gone. But she knew. She... tried... using you. Sorry. Not sure. Not sure... sorry..." He let go of Jack's hand and grabbed Jack's shirt into his fists and twisted it as he was shaking his head wildly. "Jack, oh, Jack... sorry... didn't trust you... wanted... needed you... but couldn't.... sorry.... Jack..."
O'Neill grabbed the shuddering kid and engulfed him into a bear hug. He knew it was okay now and he didn't have to be careful this time. He held him and rocked him, rambling soothing nonsense and rubbing the trembling back as he thought how much he loved Daniel, no matter what size.
And for the first time he told him so.
As the kid relaxed and his breathing slowed down, Jack O'Neill knew he finally got Daniel back. He had changed and maybe he would never be the same guy he once was. But Jack would be there for him and if Daniel needed a father more than a friend now, then he would be exactly that.
When he turned off the lamp, got up and carried the exhausted boy into the house, he saw their horse standing near the porch. In the moonlight he could see her bright shiny eyes that seemed to be so all knowing.
She greeted him with a low snicker and then slowly ambled off into the forest.
Fall came with its wonderful colors and new scents different from the smell of summer. The grass was yellow where the sun had burned it, but the meadows deeper in the woods were still green. The canopy of the trees turned to red, brown and golden. When she stood at her favorite view point the woods looked like an ocean of fire. Chestnuts and beech nuts covered the ground, but she didn't like their taste as much as she liked the apples the man and his boy would feed her.
Her fur started to thicken and she knew the winter wasn't far. She could already smell the cold in the air, even though it was still fairly warm during the day.
Maybe she would come and sleep in the stable when the winter came. She could live out in the woods, but the man would give her more food and the boy would bring her treats. It would also protect her from the harsh winds and frosty ground.
Sometimes when she came to visit them, they were gone now, but she knew they would come back soon. The man took the boy with him in his truck and they would bring back food and other things the two legged needed to survive. Only once had they been gone for longer and the house was quiet and still for a while. But they had returned and since then not left for long again.
She spent her afternoons in the sunny spot by the lake more and more often. She liked those two legged, liked to see them heal and go on with life. They would fish and play that odd board game. They would rub her back and untangle her mane. The man cut her hooves from time to time. On some days she met them in the woods where the man taught the young one how to search for mushrooms and which of them were edible. He also taught him how to find his way back home if he would ever get lost again.
Now that the young one had found his voice back, there was laughter sometimes. Whenever the boy laughed, the man's eyes turned very soft. The child was still silent at times, but on other days when she would come to see them, she could hear them talk and she thought that the boy had a nice voice, not loud and high pitched like other young two legged she had met, but gentle and calm most of the time. She heard them arguing over whether the boy should let the man cut his hair or not.
They were arguing over other things too. But it was like that with the young and the elders. When they were having disagreements, the boy would get the stubborn look of a strong headed foal and stare at the man who would stare back with as much stubbornness in his brown eyes. They each lost and won some fights, but in the end they always touched and bonded. And smiled.
One day something new had happened.
Another two legged had arrived in one of those loud bad smelling cars. She had been standing outside the cabin for a long time and the mare had watched her from the cove where she was drinking. It was a female with a blond long mane. Slender and pretty - for a two legged. It had been a rainy day. The blonde's coat had gotten wet and the wind tugged at her hair. Finally she had walked up the porch steps and knocked at the door. The man had come out and closed the door behind them. They had talked on the porch for some time.
The mare had seen the woman hugging herself almost like the child used to before he had started to heal. The man had blocked the entrance of the house and leaned on the doorframe. Finally the woman had turned and walked away, wiping her eyes as she got into her car and left.
She had come again several times. The man had sat on the porch with her, brought her a drink and they had talked. But she had never been invited into the house and the boy had never come out as long as she was there.
This morning as the mare came down to the cabin she saw the female's car parked next to the man's truck. The blonde leaned against the closed car door and was pulling her coat closer around her body.
She had to pass the woman to reach the cove. After a moment of observing she decided there was no threat coming from the woman, so she walked by her. As the two legged became aware of her, she raised her head and watched her passing.
The Palomino went to the water to drink and wondered what pain it was that kept bringing the woman here. This was a place to heal. So maybe the man and the child would help her heal, too.
O'Neill put down the two steaming mugs of coffee and watched Daniel who was on the couch, hugging himself. He still did it when he got upset or angsty. Not as tightly as in the beginning, but still it was a disturbing sight.
"Look, she just wants to talk to you," he tried for the umpteenth time, knowing how hard this was for Danny.
"Okay. I'll go out and bring her coffee. But you have to admit that she's very persistent. Why don't ya give her a chance, kid?"
Head shaking. Oh-oh. Not good.
"It's all right," he soothed. "You don't have to."
"She's evil," Daniel hissed.
"No. She's not. She's not replicator Carter. She's just... Carter. And she came because she heard about you when she was at the mountain. She put two and two together and she wants to see you. I told her you wouldn't want that. But, Danny, it's not her fault."
Jack sighed. When Carter first showed up a few couple of weeks ago Daniel had seen her through one of the windows and run to the bedroom to hide under the bed. She had just stood there in the rain and made no move to come and knock. Jack had followed Danny and found him under his bed, curled up and trying to cover his head with his arms. He was whimpering and kicked out at first when Jack tried to approach him. It took him a while to get through to the kid and just as Daniel had started to calm down there'd been the knock on the front door.
Daniel had listened to Jack as he'd told him again all the replicators were dead and if he couldn't remember real Sam? He had nodded reluctantly. Jack had told him it was real Sam standing outside and that he would go and talk to her, but not let her into the house. Daniel had nodded again.
So they had talked on the porch. She'd wanted to hear everything about what had happened to Daniel and after a moment of reluctance he had shrugged and told her. She was Carter. She used to be family.
And Daniel's recent return from the death wasn't a secret anymore. Still classified, oh yeah. But Landry had already known when they'd left. Now Doctor Lam knew, too. Whether Landry had told his daughter or she had finally figured it out herself Jack didn't know. And he didn't ask. All that mattered to him was that no one tried to take the kid away from him.
He had taken Daniel back to the mountain this fall because Lam kept insisting – she had started to call them in August and never stopped – to see the kid. It had taken Daniel a huge amount of courage and a couple of mental setbacks to go through the ordeal of leaving the cabin, flying back to the Springs and face the doc and her tests. But curiously enough it had been Daniel who had finally agreed to go after he'd observed Jack trying to get rid of Lam's calls and nagging for a couple of weeks. So they had packed their bags and stepped out of their cozy little word.
All in all it had gone better than expected.
Lam had been satisfied with Daniel's weight, his growth and everything else except for the haircut. Or the lack of it. But even though Jack had tried to coax Daniel to cut his hair himself here and there, he had told Lam a haircut didn't make any difference to Danny's health and he'd cut his hair when he was ready. That had shut her up at least for a while.
They had discussed homeschooling, therapy to improve the kid's language barrier. Daniel talked now, but he fell back into two word sentences when he was stressed, angry or sad. Lam was sure it was a mental barrier. She had declared him healthy with the exception of some minor deficiency symptoms which would be taken care of by a special diet and some vitamin pills.
A tug at his elbow brought Jack back into the present and he remembered Carter was waiting for him outside. Daniel looked at him with wide eyes. “Send her away.“
“She's not evil,“ Jack said quietly. “Trust me?“
Daniel squirmed and bit his lip. Jack reached out to brush a reassuring hand through the kid's long mane. “It's Sam,” he tried again. “Our Sam.” When the kid didn't react, he added. “They're all dead. The replicators. There are no more.“
"Why she coming back?" Daniel whispered. "Don't want to see her."
"She's coming back because she's hoping you'll come out eventually. I told her to stay away, but she won't give up. And I can't blame her, Danny. She's been one of our closest friends. I just can't push her away, I pushed people away far too long."
Daniel chewed on his lower lip. Jack swore there'd be permanent teeth marks one day. "Not going out," the kid said.
"Okay." At least he didn't play hedgehog anymore. "I'll get her the coffee. You stay here. She won't get in. Promise."
A nod. Daniel pulled the afghan over himself as if he was freezing. But he stayed in the living room this time.
Carter stood by her car and looked over at the cove. Jack had seen her coming from the kitchen window a while ago. Since she didn't knock he had just put on the coffee machine. Now he walked out to her with two steaming mugs in his hands.
"Hey," he greeted her and held out one of the mugs.
"Hey, sir," she answered. "Thanks. You saw me coming?" She sipped at the hot drink and sighed. "This is really good. It's getting cold."
"Yep. Saw you standing here and thought you could use one. How's it going?"
She shrugged. "They made me return to the SGC. There's a new guy... Colonel Mitchell. He got assigned a few weeks ago and is trying to get SG-1 back together."
"Yeah. I know him. Good man. Landry'll like him," Jack mused.
"Maybe. Teal'c is willing to come back. Bra'tac and a few others have things under control with the Jaffa government."
Jack flicked an imaginary hair from his coffee mug. "How's the big guy doin'?"
"He's fine. He came back for a couple of days and then returned to Chulak. to prepare some things, sir..."
She blinked. "Jack.” After a pause she continued, “I hoped Daniel would change his mind about seeing me. I might not be able to come here often once SG-1 is back in the field... I... I'm so sorry." Her voice dropped low as she held the coffee mug tightly with both hands.
"It's not your fault,” he said, meaning it. He had said it then and he still believed it now. Carter had been on a guilt trip over her repli double since she'd learned Fifth had made one. As if she could have prevented it from happening. She had suffered through those damn bugs equally as much as Daniel. Maybe that rat bastard, Fifth, was even partly responsible for Carter's break up with Shanahan somehow.
As if she had read his thoughts, she blinked away tears. "The bad thing is, I know exactly how he feels about me. I felt the same about Pete. It took me a long time to really figure it out. I thought it was you... my feelings for you... giving me second thoughts about the wedding and everything. But, sss... Jack, that's not true. Fifth had made up that illusion and morphed into Pete. I carried it with me... the angst, the... anger I felt for Fifth. Pete always... and he loved me. But I couldn't... not after what happened on that ship. After Fifth was in my mind. Part of me always feared that Pete would turn into Fifth - even though my rational mind insisted it wasn't possible. I buried it all inside, but the angst and the anger never completely went away.” She wiped a hand over her face and placed the coffee mug on the hood of the car. "Sorry. I didn't come to whine at you. It's just... I know what Daniel's going through. I wish I could do something. I don't want him to hate me."
"Those fucking bugs were messing with your heads. None of this is your fault. Or Daniel’s," Jack said harshly, feeling the bile rising in his throat again. He was almost sorry those repli guys were dead already. He wanted to kill them all over again. Slowly. "I don't think he hates you, Carter..."
"Sam," she said.
"Sam, right. I'm still not sure how it works. His memories are there, I guess. But I don't know exactly if he's accessing them all. He only speaks English for example. I tried a bit Arabic, but he just gave me a blank stare. I try not to dig too deep into the past either. He's still fragile. So I can only guess how much he knows. But if he remembers everything from before his... death... if all those memories area intact somewhere, he won't hate you. He just hates what the other "you" had done to him."
She shuddered. "I know."
"He's not ready yet. Give him time," Jack said.
Sam rubbed her gloved hands together and sniffled a little. She turned and looked around at the colorful trees and the lake. "This is a great place."
"Told ya so." He smirked.
"I know. I never wanted to go on the fishing trip because..." She shrugged and tried a lopsided smile. "I guess I grew up somewhere down the line."
"Hey, let's not dwell," Jack replied and took another sip of his coffee.
"Is that your horse over there? I noticed her a couple of times now." she suddenly asked and pointed over to the cove where the mare stood. Her head was up and she looked over at them.
"No, she's... visiting here and there. Guess she's a runaway."
"But shouldn't you report that to somebody?" Carter frowned, correct and concerned as always.
Jack shrugged. "I guess she likes it around here. I told the Sheriff, but nothing happened."
They watched the mare rounding the edge of the lake and slowly walking towards them. Carter smiled her first real smile when she said, "She's a beauty."
"Yeah. Hey, beauty, wanna come over and meet... Sam?" he called out to the horse. She stood and did a few back steps, then continued to walk towards them. A few feet away from the car she stopped again.
"Come on," O'Neill nudged Carter. He took her arm and guided her away from the car towards the house. When they stood near the porch they waited. The Palomino snickered deep in her throat. It was a friendly sound. Jack had learned to listen to the different nuances of her snickering.
The mare followed them, but kept a safe distance. Then she stepped closer and craned her long neck and head, her nose blowing warm breath into Carter's neck. "Hi," she said, still smiling, as they turned around towards the horse. "Who are you, huh? You're beautiful. Are you a friend of Jack and Daniel?"
O'Neill searched his jeans pocket for a horse treat nugget. They smelled like hay and looked like cookies. Harry had ordered them for him some time ago. The mare sniffed and carefully took the cookie from his hand, then nudged him for more. Jack handed Carter two more of the treats and after a moment of hesitation the horse took then from her.
"How soft her lips are," Carter drawled in amazement. "And her eyes are so bright. You're a good girl, aren't you?"
"That she is," Jack agreed clapping the muscular neck. A cloud of dust emerged from the fur and Carter laughed as he coughed and told the horse to take a bath.
Neither one of them had heard the cabin door open. When the horse tilted her huge head and gently nudged O'Neill aside, they turned to see Daniel standing on the porch. He had his hands jammed deep into his jeans pockets. The big blue down buttoned shirt he was wearing over his own tee hung open and the tails fluttered in the wind as was his still long hair. His eyes were locked on Sam and the mare. There was no sign of a smile on his face. A deep line between his dark blue eyes showed how tense he was.
"Daniel," she whispered.
"Horse likes you," he observed, his voice distant, almost cold.
"It's... It's a great horse." She searched his eyes and Daniel looked over at Jack, who gave him an encouraging grin. Carter licked her lips and brushed a hand through her long hair. "How are you, Daniel? Teal'c sends greetings. He'll come back from Chulak soon."
Daniel nodded to acknowledge that he had understood. Jack had told him to at least nod if he was talked to, so the one who talked to him knew he was listening. "It's impolite not to respond in any way. I know you don't want to talk to strangers. But a nod or a head shake isn't too much to ask,” he had said. Daniel tried to remember it and, with a bit of gentle coaxing, got better at it, too. Last week he had actually said "thanks" to Harry when they had been shopping. Harry always gave him a chocolate bar which never lasted long. Some things never changed.
Bribing didn’t only work on horses.
Carter started caressing the mare's mane. "Yeah, I guess she likes me. That's... that's a good thing, right?"
"She knows people," Daniel explained and took the few steps down from the porch. Then he quickly darted over to Jack and pressed himself against his body, his arms going around Jack's middle. He continued to glare at Carter from his safe place at Jack's side. O'Neill put a protective arm around the boy. Daniel was still reluctant about hugs. The rare moments when he needed to touch and be touched were always precious. He knew Daniel felt safe with him and that was something that weighed more than anything. Nobody would ever hurt him again if Jack could prevent it from happening.
"Do you think she knows I'm no threat to you?" Carter asked carefully, her blue eyes almost as huge as Daniel's. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. I know I can never take away from you what she did. I can't change my face and I know you'll always remember her when you look at me..."
"Jack says it's not a 'she'"," Daniel interrupted. He was talking in a whole sentence, which was a good thing. O'Neill squeezed the kid's shoulder.
"He's right. But it looked like me and it talked like me. I met her once. She fooled me, too."
Daniel winced, but nodded. And Carter went on. "I wish I could make it all undone. But all I can do is tell you that I'm not her... it. And I'm..." her voice broke as she tried to get her emotions under control. Jack thought she should let it out. But he remained silent, knowing this was between Carter and Daniel alone.
"It showed me worlds," Daniel said slowly as his fingers were kneading and twisting Jack's shirt. "It made me think.... made me," he stopped and took a deep breath, "believe I was home. Showed me Oma. Showed me Jack. Wanted knowledge."
The horse started to dance and threw her head back as she sensed Daniel’s distress. She jumped backwards and snickered in a high pitched voice. Her ears went back. Jack hugged Daniel tightly, but he didn't calm down. He stared at Carter and said breathlessly, "I didn't tell. I didn't tell. It got angry. I hid. Secret place. Here." He tapped a finger at his head. "Didn't tell. It was evil. It was all fake. I died. It killed me. Because I wouldn't tell."
"Oh Daniel.... what happened then," Carter asked brokenly.
"Sha're came." Daniel suddenly relaxed and a smile scurried across his face. "Sha're took me. We melted." Then his face scrunched up again into a frown. "But I wasn't sure. Sha're could be fake, too. I moved with the stars again. Was with Oma. Then Sha're sent me back... but body wrong. Too small. Not right." Another gulping breath and he continued, "I went home. To find Jack. But Jack gone. Strange people. I thought it was still messing with my head... Then Jack came. Jack saved me. He always does."
"Yes, he does. Did he tell you we killed all those bugs back then? Teal'c and Bra'tac found the weapon on Dakara and we sent its beam through all the Stargates so they were killed on every single world. They are gone, Daniel. Fifth survived, and so did the replicator he made of me. But eventually we got them too. It is gone. Forever gone.” Carter said urgently.
Daniel stopped twisting Jack's shirt and stood very still, his eyes big as saucers as he looked at Carter. Then, very slowly, he let go of Jack and reached out a hand to her. "I knew about the weapon from the ascended. I didn't tell it. It got very mad...” Daniel's mouth formed a surprised “Oh“. His hand settled on her arm. “It didn't know about the weapon. If you know about it, you're not it."
"No, Daniel, I'm not it." She carefully took his hand in hers and the kid allowed it.
“Sam,“ he whispered. “Sam.“
“Yes, Daniel. It's me.“ She didn't hold back the tears and they trickled down her pale cheeks. “Oh, Daniel, I missed you so much.“
“Sam,“ he repeated as their hands held onto each other like anchors.
The sun had vanished behind the trees in the distance and the crickets started their evening serenade. Moths were hovering around the lantern hanging next to the cabin's back door. The horse passed the deck on her way to the pond. Four two legged were sitting around the wooden table, one of them a broad man with dark skin and a golden sign on his forehead. She wondered if he was branded, like so many of her kind were. If the sign was a brand mark, was he owned by someone? She had never seen a two legged being branded. But he was proud and did not appear to be someone property. It must be another mystery of the two legged she didn't know.
At first she had shied away from the „big guy“ as the man called him. But he had a gentle deep voice and his eyes were honest and wise as he talked to her and fed her carrots earlier. The female two legged with the lovely long blond mane was with them. The foal had lost its fear of her, which was good. The smell of wood and fire wasn't so much to the mare's liking, but it also smelled of food and while she didn't appreciate the meat, the foal had given her apples and hard bread. So she had stayed close to them as they had their evening meal.
The female had a funny box in front of her. She had opened it and now there was light coming from a flat surface and she was clicking with her fingers on the other part of the box and signs appeared on the flat surface. The mare didn't dare to get too close to it, but everyone seemed to think it was a harmless thing. Humans. They were the most weird creatures.
She took a drink and returned to her favorite spot under the oak tree. When she passed the house again, the foal left the table and came down to say “God night.” He carefully wrapped his arms around her neck and nuzzled his face against her head. “I love you,” he said. “Sleep tight.“
She rubbed her head against his face, very carefully so not to hurt him, and sniggered softly. It was their own ritual of the day. More and more time she spent at the little house in the woods. It was her home now.
“Ortus Mallum,“ Daniel said. “It is deep in the Ori galaxy.“
”You are sure we will find the solution in our fight against the Ori there?“ Teal'c asked. There was no disbelief in his voice, just curiosity.
“Yes. Sha're told me. It's high up in the mountains.“ Daniel gnawed on his bottom lip, then added. “You have a huge stargate? Very... big? Much bigger than ours? Yes?“
Sam and Teal'c exchanged a look. “Yes,“ she said. “We have such a gate. It's called the super gate.“
Jack snorted into his beer. “Creative. Super soldier, Super gate... nice.“
“You have to use it,“ Daniel said, ignoring Jack for the moment.
“That won't be a problem.“ Sam typed something on her laptop. Then she leaned across the table, closer to the kid. “What do you know about this artifact, Daniel?“
“It is called The Ark. The Ark of Truth,“ Daniel explained. “Alterans built it. To show... to show the Ori there are other ways than theirs to exist. To co-exist with other people. But in the end the Alterans decided not to use it. They left.“
“Why? Why didn't they use it?“ Jack asked. There had to be a catch if the Alterans invented something to overcome the Ori and then didn't use it.
“I don't know,“ Daniel said. “Sha're didn't tell me. She said to let you know. She said you have to go and find it.“ He went still, his head tilted to one side. As if he was listening to a voice only he could hear. “She said to be careful. The plains of Celestis are on the same world.“
Sam sucked in a breath and Jack raised an eyebrow in her direction. “The city of the gods is on Celestis. The home of the Ori. Their headquarter so to speak.“
“And the weapon to defeat them is on the same world,“ Teal'c said. “Ironic.“
Daniel wrapped his arms around himself, a sure sign he started to feel worn out. The small striped cat who had joined their little family shortly after Daniel had gotten lost in the woods last year, came to jump on his lap as if she was feeling his unease. Daniel absently stroked her fur. Animals seemed to be drawn to him.
“This is what I know. What Sha're needed me to tell you,“ the kid said quietly. “Does it help?“
'Yes, it does. We are in your debt, young Daniel.” Teal'c bowed his head in respect and Daniel smiled.
“You used to call me DanielJackson,“ he said.
“Indeed. Do you prefer me to call you DanielJackson?“
“No. I am young Daniel now, I guess.“ He frowned. “I still don't remember everything. I know who I was. Who you are. What we did. And... that I had ascended before this time. Twice. But sometimes it still feels he was another person. That... other me. Big me.“ He took a deep breath. “I keep thinking I should go through the gate with you all. And you.“ Blue eyes settled on Jack. “We shouldn't be apart. We are SG-1. But I'm like this now and I'm... I'm different.“
Jack didn't kid himself. Daniel was different. He still battled nightmares and he still needed to be in the same room with Jack at nights. Sometimes he was still skittish or brooding. He needed time to adjust to new situations and new people in his life. But gradually he was getting better, too. Carter... Sam... and T. were frequent visitors now and they had found their sense of family once again. The new guy, Mitchell, had been here twice and Daniel apparently liked him, but didn't talk much around him.
They had started home schooling this spring and Daniel was a bright student, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. So that was not different at all. Many things he still knew, but some he had to re-learn. Languages were still his strongest field of expertise even though he had to regain the basics of Arabic and some other languages he used to speak fluently. But once the gates were open, his brain connected with his memories and he could retain a lot of his knowledge in that area.
So, yeah, Daniel was different. But underneath it all, he was still Daniel Jackson. And maybe one day he'd be back at Stargate Command. Who knew? If anyone could get beyond a trauma like this it was Daniel Jackson. Because Daniel never gave up. Not even when he was dead and gone. He'd come back and he'd claw and fight his way back to life and sanity. He had done it this time, too. And was still on his way back.
Jack was confident.
Teal'c put a large hand on Daniel's skinny shoulder. “You are still yourself, young DanielJackson. You need time to heal.“
Daniel looked up to his friend. “Will I go through the gate again, one day?“
“You will go through the gate again if that is what you want.“
Daniel's eyes wandered over to Jack. “I don't know what I want yet,” he admitted. “Right now I just want to stay here. With Jack. I feel safe here.“
And Jack hoped the kid wouldn't change his mind until he was much older. He had a feeling that one day they might have to leave this cozy little place they called home. Because the universe needed Daniel out there. But not now. And not in a long while.
For now their only worries were if the weather would hold for Daniel's b-day tomorrow so they could have that picnic he wanted. It was his only wish for his special day. There was a wildflower meadow an hour of hiking away. A spot Daniel loved and wanted to show to his friends. Sam and Teal'c had brought gifts and bags of groceries with them when they had arrived this morning. There'd be potato salad, sausages, sandwiches, a cake and other goodies. They'd spend the day hanging out, eating, talking, throwing a frisbee and having a good time.
Jack loved days like that. He suspected he probably really had retired now. For the time being.
Soon Sam and Teal'c would leave to find this Ark of Truth. Jack knew Daniel was worried about his friends. So was he. But whatever they'd have to face on this Ori planet, they'd go through it and come out of it alive. And kick butt.
Jack was confident about that, too. After all, they were his kids.